ROCKY MOUNT — Mackenzie Plott Rust, 23, fretted about how her parents might react.
But Rust mustered her pluck and confessed plans to abandon a career in teaching to open a retail shop in downtown Rocky Mount.
“I said, ‘I’m sure you are going to think I’m crazy, but I’m going to leave the school system and open a consignment store,’” she recalled.
Her mother’s response was a surprise and a comfort.
“She said, ‘I don’t think you’re crazy at all,’” Rust said.
In fact, Kim Plott, 52, told her daughter, an only child, that she had long dreamed of running a consignment shop herself.
On the weekend of Mother’s Day, Rust opened The Tortoiseshell Tabby — Upscale Consignment & Gifts in what had been a vacant storefront on Franklin Street. For now, the store opens on weekends only. After its grand opening the weekend of July 27, the store will be open Wednesday through Saturday.
Matt Hankins, Rocky Mount’s assistant town manager, works with Mackenzie’s husband, Patrick Rust, 24, a town planner, who will continue in that role. Hankins said the couple’s willingness to invest in a small business demonstrates their confidence in Rocky Mount’s future.
“From a personal level, I admire the decision for young people to put their capital and careers on the line to show that they can make a living doing what they love here in Rocky Mount,” Hankins said.
Mackenzie Rust agreed.
“We did put a lot of faith in Rocky Mount,” she said. “You just never know how you’ll be received. But the first weekend we were open it was really nice to see so many people we didn’t know come out to support us.”
Mackenzie and Patrick, North Carolina natives, first met in elementary school in Wilkes County.
“We have been best friends since the sixth grade,” Mackenzie said.
Both attended Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., where Mackenzie majored in math education.
The couple married in October and live in Callaway. Mackenzie landed a job teaching math in Rocky Mount at both Benjamin Franklin Middle School and the Gereau Center.
“I really enjoyed teaching, but I could tell it wasn’t something I was going to retire from,” she said.
Rust submitted her notice to the school division in February and paid the first month’s rent at 373 Franklin St. in March.
The 2,200-square-foot space that hosts “The Tortoiseshell Tabby” features generous display windows that drivers traveling on Franklin Street and Virginia 40 can’t miss.
“The traffic flow is wonderful,” Rust said. “It’s very visible.”
Robert and Jeanne Martin own the building. Previous retail tenants have included an antique store, a frame shop, a gallery and a feed store, Robert Martin said. He said he has been impressed by the new store’s development.
“They’ve done a really nice job setting it up,” he said.
Plott trained her daughter in consignment shopping early, Mackenzie Rust said.
“I grew up buying from consignment shops,” Rust said. “We rarely bought brand-new clothes. We were just thrifty.”
She knows that other consignment shops have come and gone in Rocky Mount. But Rust believes “The Tortoiseshell Tabby” will be unique in its focus on consigning name-brand, high-quality clothing, calling herself “picky” when it comes to the products.
A woman who stopped in the store June 26 brought a stack of clothes and a few pairs of shoes. Rust accepted some of the clothes, two pairs of shoes and some jewelry.
If the items sell, the store takes 60 percent and the consignor receives 40 percent.
The store’s inventory includes, among other things, clothes and accessories for women, clothes for men and children, home decor goods, gift items and more.
Patrick Rust provided two sets of deer antlers to hang in the men’s section.
“My husband has been so supportive,” Mackenzie said.
Patrick said he has “full faith” that the town will support the store. Both he and Hankins said they believe that the Harvester Performance Center, with an anticipated opening on Franklin Street in spring 2014, will help draw shoppers.
Mackenzie said she received help with a business plan from the Roanoke Regional Small Business Development Center. But she said opening the shop did not require a hefty investment.
The Rusts leave soon for a European honeymoon.
Kim Plott will run the store in their absence. Her husband, and Mackenzie’s father, Gregg Plott, 53, is a Methodist minister in Gastonia, N.C. He’ll likely help too.
Kim Plott said she was not surprised when her daughter announced her plans to open the store.
“I had no doubt it would be successful,” she said. “I knew she would give it 100 percent.”
For more information, go to tortoiseshelltabby.webs.com