Tucked away above the shops in Uptown Normal is Mother Murphy’s, a unique store that is known for its pipes, tapestries, music and locally made items. Students who frequent the store are probably familiar with its owners and Illinois State University alums, Mike and Becky Williams, who openly greet every customer upon their arrival. But the history of Mother Murphy’s is almost as old as the smell of incense that has been burning in the building since 1968.
Mike Williams started associating with Mother Murphy’s in 1979, when he became an employee. He worked his way to becoming manager of the business for five years before eventually accepting ownership after the founding members of the store retired and he graduated from ISU.
“Becky and I bought the shop in 1990,” Mike Williams said. “We’re just carrying on the tradition that started in 1968. The opportunity was there, and I felt like it was a viable business.”
Like any other successful business, Mother Murphy’s kept up with its customers and always had items in the store that were relevant to the interests of the time. From leather goods to vinyl to tapestries, the shop has always acknowledged the demands of those who shop there.
“The original people that started Mother Murphy’s, Betty and Charlotte, started in the height of the hippie-dippy era, when head shops and incense and water pipes all kind of came around for the first time,” Mike Williams said.
Today, Mother Murphy’s works with nearly 40 different local artists to fill their location with original handmade goods. People in the area make many of the knitted goods, glasswork items, candles, tie-dye and jewelry in the store.
A couple of years into owning Mother Murphy’s in Uptown, the couple decided to try a new venture and began to run a second business in a new location.
“We opened a second enterprise in 1992, Shockwave Skateboards, and Becky ran that in downtown Bloomington, while I stayed here to run Mother Murphy’s, and we had two businesses going,” Mike Williams said.
While the need for a skateboard shop in the area was evident, downtown Bloomington was not attracting the right kind of shoppers. Soon after, Becky and Mike decided to incorporate their skate shop into Mother Murphy’s and they designed the shop to include both businesses.
While the store has seen many changes, including layout and types of goods carried, one thing that has remained the same is the importance of positive customer service and building relationships with the people who come into the store.
“This store has a homey feeling,” Becky Williams said. “We’re all family here, and we’re not in it for the money, just to be a part of the community.”
If you find yourself in Uptown Normal, stop in at Mother Murphy’s to check it out.
This article originally appeared in The Vidette
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