When Phyllis Burwell moved to Colorado from Texas, she brought more than just her good taste in design. She also brought that inimitable Texas hospitality. With these two cornerstones, she opened Oohs & Aahs, Durango's first full-service interior decorating service, in 1994. Twenty-three years later, Phyllis is ready to retire -- again.
The successful entrepreneur says that she had the idea to open a showroom and design service when she was decorating her and her husband's retirement home in the early 1990's. At the time, she was traveling back and forth between Houston and Durango and wanted a place to shop locally for her furnishings.
"There was no place in Durango to totally decorate your house," recalls Phyllis. "So I had a designer come up from Houston."
One of her girlfriends, Shirley Crawford, was in the midst of the same process but had chosen to retire in Crested Butte instead of Durango. To expand her personal shopping options and bring a fresh concept to the charming mountain town, Shirley had opened a design store called Oohs & Aahs, a name she thought captured best her reaction to fun, fine things. She suggested to Phyllis that Durango would be another perfect niche for the fashionable business.
So the girls started looking for space in downtown Durango, which was booming, and were able to buy a lease for the corner location of the Jarvis Building across from Olde Tymer's Cafe. With Shirley as her partner, Phyllis fell easily into the role of choosing lines, playing with styles and going to market.
"I'm a very good shopper," she says. "I don't buy anything I don't love."
For eight years, the friends found success with their enterprise together. When Shirley passed away from pancreatic cancer in January 2002, she gave the store in Durango to Phyllis. Of course saddened by the loss of her partner, Phyllis managed to march on. She didn't have big plans to see the business grow, but grow it did, and in 2008, she moved Oohs & Aahs to its current location at 920 Main Avenue.
"We just probably have more money than sense," laughs Phyllis of her lack of direction that worked out for the best.
While most Oohs & Aahs clients are retirees and second homeowners, Phyllis has also had the pleasure of serving both the voice behind the Tour de France (Bob Roll) and the crooner behind The Devil Went Down to Georgia (Charlie Daniels). Her favorite part of owning the business has definitely been all of the friends she's made over the years.
"It's been successful because I've fit into that niche of people that like the way the store looks," says Phyllis. "And we've always stressed customer service. We've always gone beyond to make people happy. I'm very proud of that."
"We stand behind everything we do," adds Oohs & Aahs designer, Jackie Gillespie. "We go above and beyond for customer service because we're working to build lasting relationships with people. Most of our clients have become our friends. In fact, I would say that 75-percent of my friend base is through this door in one shape or form."
A parting picture with long-time cherished clients.
Jackie moved to Durango from Texas in 1999. A designer by trade, she was an easy choice for Phyllis to welcome onto the Oohs & Aahs team. Seventeen years later, Jackie is still helping people create their dream homes.
"I work with everybody," says Jackie of her go-to style. "Contemporary, rustic, traditional . . . I like them all. Every job is different because every person's taste is different.
Also part of the Oohs & Aahs team over the years was window treatment talent, Mr. Wayne Colby. Mister Wayne, who owned Wayne's Window Coverings, joined the girls a year after Jackie came onboard.
"He walked in our door one day asking if we were looking for window treatment help," recalls Jackie. "After he left, I told Phyllis that he was a gift from God. He was a great fit for us and brought such a wonderful reputation to the business."
Together, the trio formed more than the foundation of Oohs & Aahs; they became a family.
"The three of us had a little pact that nobody was going to retire or close the store before the others," says Jackie. "We would go down together."
The 'rule' was that nobody could retire before Jackie's son, Cory, graduated from high school. They almost made that milestone, but Mr. Wayne had some life-changing events come up that led to him bowing out graciously in 2015.
"He came in and said, 'Well, girls, I gotta go," Jackie remembers. "'Are y'all comin' with me?'"
The timing was a little too soon for Phyllis, who wasn't ready to close the shop. Jackie says one of the reasons to stay is the impact Oohs & Aahs has on the community from a giving standpoint.
"Phyllis is very generous with donations," says Jackie. "As a retail business, we get hit up from everything for fundraising and silent auctions. We rarely turn anybody down."
When the Bayfield Marshal's approached her last week for a donation request, Phyllis couldn't say no. After they left, Jackie says the two just cried.
"Phyllis looked at me and said, 'It's the stuff like this I'm gonna miss.'"
But it's time to move on, and the girls will find plenty to fill their days with over the coming years.
"I still love the design business," says Jackie of what she'll do next. "It's the only thing I've ever done."
Her best piece of design advice for people?
"You just gotta always keep in mind what's comfortable for you . . . what's the most important for you. What might be comfortable for me might not be comfortable for you. It's your home. It's your space. Not your designer's. Not your builder's. Keep it your space. Make it show your personality."
Meanwhile, Phyllis and her husband have plans to travel to West Virginia to visit their daughter and six-year-old grandson, Walker. They also plan to take some time for river cruises around Europe.
"And then I just want to hang at the house with my animals," laughs Phyllis. "I have a rez dog, Sophie, a hound-dog mix, Sam, and a cat named Willie Nelson, but we just call him Trouble."
While the girls are out following their passions, one thing is for sure: their Southern charm and hospitality will continue to bring smiles and good cheer to all who have the pleasure of crossing their paths.
"There's other people from other states who are just as nice," says Jackie. "So whether it's a Texas thing or not, it's polite, and it's the way it should be."