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Iconic Occoquan store closing after 30 years

Updated: Jul 8, 2023

Article and Photos by Paul Lara

One of the most influential faces in Occoquan is Betsy Merklein, owner of Personally Yours, an antique store on Mill Street that’s been a part of the community for nearly 30 years.

Merklein, who designs and builds many pieces herself, has had a hand in numerous Occoquan activities: ghost tours, the Chocolate Walk and Lemonade Stroll were all a part of her involvement in the town’s promotions. But next week Personally Yours will be closing and transitioning to online sales.

“I’ve enjoyed almost every minute of it. It’s been the biggest part of my life, and I’m very sad to be leaving,” Merklein said at a surprise party Aug. 20 organized by other business owners in town, along with her husband, Jack.

“I was in complete shock,” she told InsideNoVa. “I was not expecting to see all my wonderful friends here and have this wonderful party.”

Standing on the big front porch of the store, friends talked about how Merklein has had a helping hand in nearly every town event. Occoquan Mayor Earnie Porta said that even in the craziest times, she was there to help ensure the success of the latest activity.

“One of the things that helped everybody get through those times is having people that are grounded and care about others, and tries to think the best about others,” Porta added. “Betsy, for me, has been one of those individuals.” Merklein said the business began when she and her partner, Ann Sweeney, a painter, joined forces and started selling their creations at craft shows, including the two big ones in Occoquan. During a show in 1992, Sweeney said she really wanted to have a store. The store at 306 Commerce St. had a “For Rent” sign in the window, and they looked at each other and walked in to investigate. Forty-five minutes later, they emerged, smiling, and told their husbands they had signed a lease.

Jack Merklein said their creativity drew a steady crowd of admiring customers. “Our basement is like a professional wood shop and a professional electrical shop – and she does all of that,” he said. “She would have an idea, make a pattern, cut it, rout it, finish it, and if she decided to make a lamp, she would wire it as well.”

After two moves, Personally Yours has been on Mill Street since 2014, but the landlord is selling the property – something Betsy said she is OK with.

“My landlord is great and supported us through the pandemic,” Merklein said. “We wouldn’t have survived the pandemic, but all our regular customers contacted us on Facebook and Instagram. We … paid our rent through Facebook sales. I’m hopeful we can continue to do that featuring American artists and specialty products.”

Sarah Hitchcock Burzio, owner of Hitchcock Paper, said Merklein has always been the voice of reason when merchants gather to plan their futures.

“She’s the calmest person in the meeting every time, and she knows how things have worked in the past. She knows events, and knows the town,” Hitchcock Burzio said. “She was not afraid to embrace me and taught me a lot about running a business in Occoquan. She’s selfless – she will never hesitate to ask ‘what can I do’ at every meeting.”

Porta agreed. “We need more Betsys in the world. Betsy is irreplaceable,” he told her friends. “We’re all going to miss her, and we pray you don’t go too far away.”

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