Every moment is a gift at local gift shop

Sugar Maple Trading Co owner Cindy Hughes talks family, business, and gift giving with the Ring-tum Phi.

Mary Alice Russell

Sugar Maple Trading Company is located on Main Street in downtown Lexington. Photo by Mikah Holcomb, ’21.

The first part of the year is always quiet for Sugar Maple Trading Company, but owner Cindy Hughes, 53, doesn’t mind.  Last Wednesday, with her carefully curated Ella Fitzgerald Pandora playlist playing in the background, three of her eight grandchildren came into her store, masked, to buy candy. Little traditions like selling Dum Dum Lollipops to her grandkids have made COVID-19 more manageable.  Hughes said she has loved having her family involved in every part of her business since Sugar Maple opened two-and-a-half years ago. Their family motto, “come what may and love it,” is proudly displayed above the window display created by her daughter Aubrey. Below is an edited interview with Hughes about the past year, gift giving and her journey to opening a family-owned business. 

What led you to open your own business? 

I actually homeschooled [my kids] from kindergarten to 12th grade, and that was quite an adventure. While I was doing that, I helped my husband build a business. It was based on legal insurance, so it was not related to this at all.   

And then years ago, on our very first trip without children, our 10th wedding anniversary, we went down to Seaside, Florida. We went down to this little shop and that was the first seed of the idea. Then, in 2006, we came to Highland County on a trip and we were going down the road and saw a street called Maple Sugar Lane, and I turned to my husband and said ‘hey, if we ever have that shop, I would call it Sugar Maple Trading Company. That way, I could sell anything that I wanted to.’ I went home and bought the domain name then, in 2006, not ever thinking we would do anything with it. 

After that, we had a series of unfortunate events. There was a car accident. [My husband] got lung cancer. I got breast cancer. When I finished my treatment, I said ‘I think I want to do this.’ I had a candy dish that my grandmother gave to me that always had Swedish Fish in it, and I was giving a piece to my grandkids. I saw me and my grandmother doing the same thing. I saw that connection with things. I want people to have those same kinds of moments. I really want people to have a joyful and relaxed life and just to live in their moments. So, I decided to do this. 

That’s a great story. How has business been? 

The business has launched an online store, in addition to their brick and mortar location, during the pandemic. Photo by Mikah Holcomb, ’21.

This whole thing has actually been a blessing in disguise for us because we had started a few things, like our online store and some other things, and it gave us the opportunity to really crystalize what it is that we do — who our customer is, how to do our online store — just all of those things. It really compressed a lot of things. Things it would have taken two to three years to figure out we figured out in a couple of months. We’ve been busy the whole time — even if there might not have been customers — there was always someone working, photographing product or working on the website.

The website is pretty new, what has it been like running the website? 

As lockdown hit, we thought the website was going to be one way, but it has really turned into a lot of different ways that we didn’t think about. This first quarter is all about getting [the website] set and even in a far better way than it is now. So, we’ve learned a lot and we’ve been working a lot. The online store really helped us in those couple of months when we were really locked down, and people really supported it. We had college students who would order online. We’ve had people who would normally come to visit at certain times of the year order. We started [the website] in December of 2019, and I’m really glad that we did.

What do you want to change about the website?

So, we have that gift inspiration tool, and that’s going to be expanded. The whole website will be more user-friendly. There will be more categories that you can choose. We are adding more personalities that people can choose. So, if you have someone in mind, or even if you don’t, it’s just something you can click around on and get ideas. We are also working on some things that are grab and go. With the knowledge that we have gained, [the website] will not only be for people who don’t live here but for people who live here as well. 

It sounds like the website is exactly something people are looking for right now. I think everyone loves BuzzFeed Quizzes and your website is like that for gifts! 

Yeah, that’s exactly what we do! Our goal is to make gift giving something great, easy, and simple to do from start to finish. So that’s what we are focusing on. 

Have you always enjoyed giving gifts?

You know, it’s funny, gift giving is a very stressful thing. It’s always been a stressful thing for me, so when we started Sugar Maple, I was very resistant to being called a gift store. But now, I’m glad to say that we’re a gift shop, and I love helping people find gifts. 

Is there anything that you have done differently during the pandemic that you want to continue? 

For me personally, I have learned to slow down and every day I wake up and write down two or three things that I need to do. As far as the store goes, we’re going to keep the local delivery and the curbside, accommodating people in those kinds of ways. We didn’t have a lot of money to start with, and I think that’s served us well because we had to be really thoughtful about what we chose and what we did. That was helpful during the pandemic because we didn’t have a lot of burden. We are going to keep doing that. 

If you are interested in shopping at Sugar Maple Trading Company or craving a Swedish Fish, the store is open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for in-store shopping, pick-up and delivery.