People of Thomas: Erika Smith

 Photo:  Shannon Gray

by Natalia Dutt, AmeriCorps Member

It is hard to imagine only two years ago, the now eclectic shop full of pieces that tell an amazing story and is as if you are walking into your dream home was bright yellow and the owner, Erika, was sitting in a wheelchair with her knee propped up, only two days post surgery directing friends and family where to paint and set up shop. Now, Ella is filled to the brim with antiques, hanging flowers, and millions of stories. Sitting down with Erika was like sitting down with an old friend. During our hour long conversation we talked about the importance of storytelling, staying true to your roots, and to “just keep truckin” to achieve your dreams.

After growing up in Tucker County, Erika went WVU to receive a degree in interior design. As a child she loved creating whether it was painting, drawing, or creating a space as long as it told a story. Though she had the opportunity to continue her education in London, she knew she wanted to pursue something locally, so she joined AFHA as a hands on team AmeriCorps member. While juggling her service year and earning a master’s degree, Erika continued to dream of one day opening her own business designing weddings, selling antiques, and interior design. Starting off small she would help friends design their perfect weddings. Bringing out items she has been collecting since she was young, she was always the go to to make sure someone’s special day was as magical as possible. All while putting on these weddings and doing a few interior design projects on the side, the dream of opening a space was always in the back of her mind. She said she kind of spoke Ella into existence. Everyday she would tell her mom, “this is going to work,” even on the days it was hard to believe it herself. She put in the hard work and in her words, “kept truckin’” in order to make her dreams a reality. 

A few years went by and potential spaces fell through but she finally got the space she is in today. Erika always knew she wanted to stay close to family. You can always visit big cities, but there is something about the charm of Thomas that can’t be replicated anywhere. When setting up shop each step of the process was thought through meticulously: from the color of the walls to the sign outside each step has a story. Erika wanted to incorporate many local things when creating the space that would be filled with all of her collections. From the tin on the wall which she got from a friend who was redoing their barn to the bar where the lumber was milled in Tucker County hundreds of years ago, she said it was interesting to think of all the hands that had a part in creating these pieces. 

Designing and setting up the shop came as truly a group effort with her family and friends. She and her dad made the bar on the back wall with a design to depict the mountains they both get to call home. The sign which took a year to be perfect was designed and created by Erika and a friend. She had a hand in every aspect of creating this amazing space. Though she knows people may never know the importance of her signature round sign hanging outside, she knows that the wood in is over 100 years old and holds a rich history, the logo is her own handwriting, and the steel is all made in West Virginia. One small sign that many people could overlook holds so much meaning and a story. That is how everything in Ella has come to exist: a good story and the passion to make something beautiful. Erika knows she is lucky to be doing exactly what she wants to be doing in life, but also realizes the importance of keeping close with your family. In the end they are the ones who will always be there to pick you up when you need it most. 

Talking to Erika was incredibly refreshing. It was neat to hear a snippet of what it was like to grow up in Tucker County, to be humble enough to ask for help when you need it, and always use resources that will help tell your story. We are lucky to have a person like this in our community.