Shay’s Unique Gifts: Love for People, Conversations, and Life

by | Apr 2024

DRIVING DOWN Commerce Street, one will see plenty of businesses — restaurants, an investment service, an attorney’s office, a coffee house, a massage place, and more. However, if one is fortunate enough, a set of bright red double doors might catch their eye, causing the person to look up and see the shop’s title.

“Who is Shay?” The person may wonder, particularly if they’re new to the city. At this point, they may enter the shop. Inside, an array of trinkets, clothes, boots imported from Turkey and Mexico, cute ornaments, and other accessories are on display. Greeting customers is a woman with a brilliant smile and an aura that just promises wonderful conversations. Visitors to the shop will not only leave with a special gift but a new friendship as well. 

This experience describes what Shay Borel has brought to Greater Lynchburg for almost 20 years through her shop, Shay’s Unique Gifts.

Borel believes God blessed her with talents including making jewelry, painting, and repurposing furniture. 

These creations include hand-painted furniture, glassware, stemware, and Christmas ornaments. Borel fashions leather bags, wallets, wristlets, and handbags. Lamps made out of used wine and liquor bottles catch attention as well. Even the clothes are unlike those one would find at a typical U.S. business. Although the shop is more tailored toward women, men like visiting to enjoy fruitful discussions and receive the wisdom, knowledge, and advice the shop owner has to offer. 

Borel came to Lynchburg in the ‘80s as a United Parcel Service (UPS) driver. With the physical stress of delivering packages and the long hours required from the position, Borel realized her health was heading in a poor direction, so she decided to put her talents to work. That’s when she left UPS and opened her store. 

“My biggest thing was that downtown had nowhere to shop. So we had new restaurants coming in, we had the hotels coming, but there was really nothing to do to bring you to stay other than shopping,” Borel said.

So, she gave people a reason to stay. Borel said places downtown did not offer the items she wanted to sell when she launched her business. She and her husband, Mark — who works in the building industry, developing commercial and residential homes and performing other developmental work — bought the property currently housing Shay’s Unique Gifts.

“I’m always into something,” Borel said. “I mean, I make jewelry from all my travels. I save all my coins, and I make coin jewelry from each trip, and then I sell them in the store also.”

Her expeditions largely involve winter trips to Mexico, where she participates in mission work with a group. They help feed the hungry, provide activities for children, and work with a school for deaf students.

Borel’s shop previously opened from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday. With her mother experiencing health issues and the COVID-19 pandemic striking the nation, situations changed and forced her to reduce days and hours since her business was not considered “essential.” Owning a store requires payment for rent, utilities, and insurance. COVID-19 had only made that aspect of life more difficult, as the pandemic basically shut her store down. So she prayed and, fortunately, she had saved enough money to push through. 

“The challenge is, owning your own business as a small business owner is very expensive, and you don’t always get a paycheck,” she said. “You might always look good because you’re wearing something new and pretty, but it’s challenging to keep the doors open.” 

It’s even tougher in a world where online purchasing from large corporations is popular. 

“If the world continues to go that way, small businesses will never make it,” Borel said. 

However, her passion for people, conversations, and life keeps her motivated and inspired. She plans to adjust her store hours to run Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., beginning sometime in April after returning from a trip abroad. 

Stationed right next to a hotel, Borel said her shop has become a stop for tourists over the years rather than her regular customers, who have grown older. 

“So it’s more catering to more of people visiting, wanting something new [or], wanting something handmade,’” Borel said. 

Because four universities are nearby — Liberty University, University of Lynchburg, Randolph College, and Sweet Briar College — the shop owner receives opportunities to meet those visitors, which aligns perfectly with her passion for meeting various personalities. 

The next time you’re on Commerce Street and see those double red doors, step inside. You will find a unique gift and a friend. GN 

More Good News