Happy Couple Revels in the Fun and Funky

Missing the eclectic shops of the big city, Deborah Graybill opened her own, The Shelter Vintage, that specializes in repurposed objects and home accessories.

Shaking Up Sparta: Deborah Graybill and Chris Sorensen bring an urban shopping vibe to laid-back Lake Mohawk.
Photo by Andy Foster

Deborah Graybill grew up in Sparta’s quaint Lake Mohawk area, then moved to Brooklyn and got a high-powered New York City marketing job, but “eventually, Sparta called me back,” she says. Growing up with a mom who was a die-hard bargain hunter, Graybill spent her youth prowling flea markets and garage sales. “That’s why I appreciate old stuff.”

After packing in the city life and returning to laid-back Sparta in 2007, she missed fun shops with an urban vibe. A few years later, Graybill married playwright and artist Chris Sorensen, and together they opened Shelter Vintage in 2012. “Now I don’t have to travel to a big city to shop for cool finds,” she says.

“I got pulled into the store, but I really enjoy it,” says Sorensen. “My wife is the perfect shop owner because she loves changing the store around to keep it fresh.”

The Shelter Vintage name reflects the owners’ penchant for sheltering and repurposing discarded objects. Months after opening, the small home-furnishings shop expanded its inventory to offer personal accessories and more. “We have what other retailers don’t, so I scout the country and also carry items from New Jersey artists and crafters,” Graybill says. Popular gifts include handmade wooden pens by a Sparta artisan and customized pillows for Lake Mohawk and other Garden State lakes and towns.

While Graybill immerses herself in merchandising the store’s jewelry, tableware, art, pillows and other kitschy home accessories, Sorensen paints cool graphics on discarded wooden shipping palettes. His eco-friendly works of art wind up among the shop’s inventory and usually sell out fast.

This year, Shelter Vintage will introduce a Bushel-and-a-Peck gift basket—recycled apple crates with locally sourced organic jams, biscotti, cookies and other goodies. “All our gift baskets are tagged with a signature ‘peck’ or kiss from us at Shelter Vintage,” says Graybill, which seems fitting since the owners are clearly in love with their business—and each other.

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