by Barbara Sherf
Ginny and Lew Ashenfelter, proprietors of The Happy Butterfly in the 8400 block of Germantown Avenue, are retiring at the end of the month after 32 years of selling hand crafted gifts in a store that “made her happy as a butterfly.”
The Flourtown couple, both 84, will be on hand on Saturday May 23, from 2 to 4 p.m. to say their farewells to local shopkeepers and longtime customers, while selling the remaining merchandise and store fixtures as their last day in business will be May 30.
Once the signs went up, new customers came to take advantage of the sales, and longtime customers came to say goodbye and purchase one last something to remember the store by.
“Word is spreading. They know we are working hard on selling all that we have. If it weren’t for Lew holding down the fort I don’t know what we’d do,” Ginny said while waiting for him to come home from the store one evening. She suffered a broken hip on New Year’s Eve they 2013 and has had two surgeries to repair the damage.
Former CHBA president Fran O’Donnell helped them make signs for the Retirement Sale and once the signs went up, customers – old and new flocked to the sidewalk sale and then into the store.
“I’ve been through a store closing, and if I can help them, I am there in any way I can,” said O’Donnell, who reinvented himself when O’Donnell’s Stationery store fell on hard times, opening O’Doodles Toy Store, and in more recent years transitioning to a full-time position as a realtor broker for Berkshire Hathaway.
Longtime customers and fellow shopkeepers expressed sorrow over the closure of the specialty shop.
“It’s very sad to see it go,” said Molly Turman, a volunteer at Bird in Hand. “Where else can you buy smock dresses and handmade toys? I have purchased several of their handmade sweaters and other items for my grandchild, which are very reasonable and made with love.”
Chestnut Hill Hospital physician Dr. Patricia Bailey, visited the store upon hearing the news of its closing.
“I came here with my children to buy for them and now I buy for my grandchildren,” she said. “The items I bought for my children held up so well that I passed many of the items I bought for my children down to my grandchildren, I wish them well.”
Seamstress Maria Chiodo, 85, who sews in her small shop on the second floor, stops in every morning and every afternoon to check in on things.
“I am very fond of them,” she said. “I miss Ginny very much. In the morning we would have a little chat about our families and what was going on. They are such a sweet couple and I have many beautiful things I bought here over the years. They will be missed dearly, it is the end of an era.”
Former Chestnut Hill Local Editor Katie Worrall remembered her dealings with Ginny, who served as president of the Chestnut Hill Business Association from 1994-95.
“She has always been friendly and kind, both during the years I worked at the Chestnut Hill Local and afterwards,” Worrall said. When I covered the Chestnut Hill Business Association meetings, she always tried to answer my questions in her work to strengthen the business community.”
While sitting in her living room filled with crafts and a bay window of potted plants and flowers, Ginny shared her fond memories of the crafters, customers, Lew, her two grown children, her grandson, and, finally, the subject she least likes to talk about – the closing of the store.
“I have a hole in my heart,” Said “Ginny. The economy just hasn’t picked up and what we sell are really one-of-a-kind items that are a luxury for many. Nothing lasts forever, but it’s still very difficult.” Our crafters are getting older, many of them are losing their eyesight and having health problems like us.”
Ginny, who hales from Charlottesville, Va. met Lew, a native of Lower Gwynedd and graduate of Penn Charter, on a blind date while he was attending business school at University of Virginia in Charlottesville. She had graduated from the Richmond Professional Institute of William and Mary, where she majored in clothing design and millinery. He proposed on their second date and they have been married for 63 years.
“We’re not 21 anymore. Nothing lasts forever, but still it’s difficult,” said Ginny, who tells Lew everyday that “he’s still the man of my dreams. Lew and I will get through this together. We want to thank the community for their support over all of these years. It’s been a good run.”
For more information on store hours, fixtures, or to say farewell call 215-248-3733 or send a note along to the Chestnut Hill Community Exchange, 8419 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19118.
Flourtown resident Barbara Sherf is a personal historian and neighbor of the couple for 27 years. She can be reached at 215-233-8022 or CaptureLifeStories@gmail.com.