Archibald Sisters brings joy of discovery to downtown Olympia

Andrew Oslin, Content Creator 

Archibald Sisters offer eclectic products and gifts. Photo by Andrew Oslin

Archibald Sisters, a small shop in Olympia that has sold fragrances, toys and eclectic giftware since 1975, is a curious destination often recommended to those who visit the capital city of Olympia.

The shop is located at 406 Capital Way S, near the intersection at 4th Ave. The purple storefront is marked with the iconic name in groovy white print, stained in the pink-framed glass alcove which shades the doorway. White tiles, many of them pentagons, stud the space above the doorway and near ground level, and four smooth cement columns add a certain opulence to its aesthetic. Behind the large storefront windows sit an eclectic array of posters, signs and decorations, adding lilac pizazz to a city block already filled with character.

Once you step inside, you see an impressive array of toys, cards and giftware, such as small desktop puzzles and rubber chickens, juggling balls and hilariously vulgar mugs, sarcastic shot glasses and of course, the section in the back dedicated to the mixing and bottling of custom-made fragrances. Several freestanding shelves are set at right angles, creating a small labyrinth of walking spaces between their edges. In combining humorous novelties with an acclaimed fragrance bar, this quirky establishment is no ordinary gift shop.

Phill Rollins, the current owner (and one of the originals) explains how the name came about.

“There actually were two Archibald Sisters. One of them is named Susie, and the other one is named Shelley,” explained Rollins. “I married Susie, and we divorced a number of years ago. I remained with the business, and she didn’t.”

He describes its origins as heavily rooted in its eccentricity. Founded in 1975, it reflected the culture of Olympia in the 70’s.

“During that particular period of time it was very common to go to gift shows, and those still exist. The industry is just so different right now,” said Rollins. “When we were able to go to these gift shows we would just search out stuff that we liked, and that we thought our customers would like too, trying to keep it a little offbeat. We were really trying to focus on selling stuff that people couldn’t get someplace else.”

The store is often considered a must-see in downtown’s Historic District, and is featured on a visitor map put together by Experience Olympia & Beyond, the official destination marketing organization of Thurston County.

“I am aware that we have a reputation, and that I’m very proud of. As far as people recommending to other people that they should visit the store, it’s really satisfying to see customers come in,” said Rollins. “They’ll bring their out-of-town relatives, for example, [and] they’re proud to show them what it is that Olympia has to offer.”

The long-standing shop attributes a great deal of its success to its solid base of regulars, who keep coming back to the business.

“They play an enormous role in our success of the store. They’re the ones who have patronized us over the years,” said Rollins. “It’s a very common thing for me to hear from a customer that, [for example] my mom brought me here in, like, 1981, and I’ve been coming here. I’ve had grandmothers bringing their granddaughters, so it’s extremely satisfying to know that these people enjoy it that much that they want to share it with someone else.”

The pandemic affected Archibald Sisters as it did any other business, forcing them to revamp their hours of operation as well as tweak their method of sales. The store is now only open six days a week, and for less time (currently Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.).

“During the time of the shutdown we were able to fulfill our web sales, so that was some income coming in, and then we opened up at the beginning of June,” explained Rollins. “As everyone else, it’s definitely affected sales, and we don’t have as many walk-ins as what we did in the past. [But] since we opened in June, sales have steadily increased.”

Rollins also noted that customers have responded well in terms of honoring the social distancing and masking guidelines that the store has had to put in place. This allows them to keep their emporium-like presence open to all.

If you happen to stroll inside, you are almost bound to find something that speaks to you.

“I’d like for the customers to feel that they‘re in a happy place, and I’ve always felt that,” said Rollins. “But now, especially in some of the challenging times that we’ve been living through, to have a little bit of respite, possibly pick up something and be amused by it, laugh at it, be comforted by different fragrance type things that we offer – just give our customers a little joy in their life.”

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