I trust this friend’s opinion explicitly, so I was excited for my inaugural visit.
The first thing to welcome you as you enter the colorful store is a waft of amazing aromas from the fragrance counter near the rear of the open room. This isn’t a “knock you down” olfactory assault – it’s a pleasant mix of lovely scents, which draws you inward to row upon row of testers.
Archibald Sisters owner Phil Rollins – he opened the store in 1975 with the eponymous Archibald Sisters, and has been sole proprietor since 2007 – describes the fragrance department as the store’s mainstay.
With over 100 fragrances to choose from, Archibald Sisters custom mixes a huge assortment of scents. They formulate their own blends, usually introducing six fragrances a year. “If something isn’t working, it doesn’t stick around,” says Rollins. “But the stuff that does work is still here.”
For the past four or five years, the shop’s custom blend dubbed “Oly Girl” has been its biggest seller.
Scents can then be applied to a variety of personal care items, like lotions, bath wash, shampoo, conditioner, and aftershave.
Once a personal lands on a scent or custom blend of scents that they adore – patrons are invited to experiment with mixing fragrances from the store’s large stock – Archibald Sisters keeps that exact formula on record.
“We have a really loyal customer base,” says Rollins. “I’ve had people ordering the same fragrance for 25 years. It really makes me feel good to get compliments from people saying ‘We just love this store.’”
It’s a popular opinion. Rollins says it’s not uncommon for people to bring out-of-town relatives and friends into the shop to show them what Olympia is all about.
“I’ve certainly eavesdropped on a few of those conversations, and they’re just really proud,” says Rollins. “They’re proud of the store, which makes me really proud that I can provide that to them.”
And Archibald Sisters offers so much more than gorgeously scented goodies.
“The other things just happened over the years,” Rollins says of the rest of the store’s stock. “People will have their favorite fragrance and while they’re getting their bottles refilled, they shop around and check out all the other stuff.”
That “stuff” is an eclectic collection of fantastic items, from cards and books to jewelry and quirky toys.
Rollins is the store’s chief buyer, but he also welcomes valuable input from his staff of six, including a sales manager who is in charge of buying books and cards.
“We’re always trying to create a fun shopping experience, to show people some items that they haven’t seen in other stores,” he says.
For instance, how many shops have a section devoted to bacon-related items? Archibald Sisters has that covered, with porcine-themed products from bacon-flavored lip balm, dental floss, toothpaste, and more.
“Who would guess someone would come out with bacon soap?” Phil says, laughing.
Phil tries to cover all the bases, stocking unique and unusual items for all age groups. So Archibald Sisters truly has something for everyone on your gift-giving list: jewelry, scarves, hats, books, gag gifts, toys, candy, and more.
Archibald Sisters may offer lots of funny items, but supporting downtown Olympia is serious business to Rollins.
“I love downtown Olympia,” he says. “Not only do I have a business down here, but I live just a couple blocks away, too. There’s a real unique energy downtown.”
The store has always been a strong community supporter, giving to arts-oriented groups and other local organizations. Rollins says he receives an unbelievable amount of donation requests and wishes he could help them all, but generally he supports education, kids, and the arts.
A recent collaboration with the YWCA of Olympia resulted in an exclusive fragrance named “Y,” which benefits the local nonprofit organization. Five dollars from the sale of each bottle goes to support the YWCA’s The Other Bank and Girls Without Limits! programs.
“I’m really proud of the way it works together with the business and the community,” says Rollins of the partnership.
Rollins simply can’t imagine having his store anywhere other than the heart of downtown Olympia. “This location has worked out very well.”
With the Farmers Market anchoring one end of Capitol Way, other businesses are slowly opening up between downtown and the popular destination spot. “That’s making a whole corridor where there’s cool stuff for people to walk and see,” says Rollins.
Archibald Sisters shared the title of “Best Local Business” with Dumpster Values in this year’s reader’s pole tallied by Tacoma’s Weekly Volcano. It was also voted “Best Gift Shop” in the Olympian’s Best of South Sound competition.
Rollins’s daughters, Hayley Rollins and Lucy Rollins are now considered the “new” Archibald Sisters (their mother, Susie, is one of the original Archibald sisters). They grew up working in the store, have input into store goings on, and are corporation board members. They hope to open a smaller Archibald Sisters in the Portland area soon.
406 Capitol Way South
Olympia WA 98501
Monday through Saturday 10am to 6pm
Sunday 11am to 5pm