When a customer walks into What-Nots, she likely expects to browse through the furniture store filled with one-of-a-kind vintage furniture and accessory pieces just as she would any other furniture store.
But owners Michelle Shaheen and Terry Kennon, a married Vienna couple, want the customer to have a better, more welcoming experience.
A greeting from Shaheen, who manages the store while her husband is off "treasure hunting" for furniture, often goes something like this: "Hello! Thanks for stopping by. If you want coffee or tea, let me know. And if you like something but don't like the price, I'm sure we can work something out."
Customers can purchase French Press coffee and tea made with Kangen Water, which is a filter system that puts tap water through an ionization process before it is used to make the tea or coffee, to have as they browse the retail shop in Oakton Square on Chain Bridge Road.
Shaheen and Kennon also hope some of their customers purchase a cup of coffee and take a seat in any of the chairs or sofas displayed throughout the store, which was originally built as a three-story home in the 1940s.
They see What-Nots as a low-key place where Oakton residents and other customers can hang out like they would a coffee shop, even equipped with Wi-Fi, but the twist is all the furniture they're using is available for purchase.
"The idea was to provide Oakton with a place to come to that was cozy and friendly and where they would feel relaxed," Shaheen said.
Shaheen has plans to host various events — from rug lectures to writing events — within the shop, and hopes local clubs will want to use the space, as well, for no cost other than the courtesy of purchasing beverages for the meeting.
"We're just having fun, and we want to create a fun place for people to come," Shaheen said.
For customers wondering whether two professional baristas decided to go into the furniture business, rest assured it's the other way around. Shaheen and Kennon have been in the furniture business for about 30 years. Kennon even owned a furniture store in Vienna called Woodmarket about 30 years ago and recently wrote a book, How to Avoid 'Just Looking!', which offers advice on increasing retail sales. Shaheen helped her mother run antique stores in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Beverly Hills, Calif. After her mother died, Shaheen traveled the country selling high-end furniture. The couple met at a furniture sale in San Jose, Calif.
"The one thing that is a little different about our place is that if we can give people an extra discount on things, we don't mind doing that at all," Shaheen said. "When we went into business, we wanted to make money, but we wanted to be fair. If there's something that a customer likes that they think deserves a lower price, I'll give you the best price I can."
Since the store opened last fall, most customers have been successful in talking Shaheen down through a good old-fashioned haggle. A couple customers, though, went so low Shaheen had to tell them the negotiated price would tip below cost.
"You know what happened? They said, 'Oh well we don't want that. We want you to stay here for a long time.' Then they paid full price! Shocked me to death. I was really surprised. It was extraordinary, really," Shaheen said. "People want to negotiate because it's fun and part of the experience, but they also want small businesses to survive."
Peggy Pethtal, a regular customer who works in Vienna, said she first walked into What-Nots because of the display window. She saw a table she wanted, so she entered the store and walked out with a different table, chairs and a china hutch.
Now she stops in during the work day to browse, sometimes buy and often to chat with Shaheen.
"This is the best place ever. They're fun, it's light. You don't feel pressured. If you want it, you want it, if you don't, you don't," she said. "Their things are fabulous, good quality and great prices."
Shaheen and Kennon have high hopes they will be serving the Oakton community for a long time, and are anxious to meet new faces and groups along the way.
"Oakton is a nice place for our store, and I think it needs something that has a low-key setting like this," Shaheen said.