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West Fargo boutique offers slice of Russia

For Olga Sholy, Volga Boutique is not just a gift shop. No, the tiny store in West Fargo's Pioneer Center is also a Russian museum and an English language school. "I was a very busy person in Russia. I felt lonely here. Nothing to do. My language...

For Olga Sholy, Volga Boutique is not just a gift shop.

No, the tiny store in West Fargo's Pioneer Center is also a Russian museum and an English language school.

"I was a very busy person in Russia. I felt lonely here. Nothing to do. My language was poor. I wished to do something," the Volgograd native said.

She took the advice of relatives and opened the shop at 1365 Prairie Parkway last year with her husband, David Sholy.

It's mostly stocked with favorites from her homeland -- matryoshka nesting dolls, khokhloma lacquered boxes, brightly patterned shawls, china and painted eggs -- along with an assortment of cards and other gifts.

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Helping customers quickly improved the Fargo woman's language skills. One woman even stopped by to help Olga with English homework.

Olga also wrote histories of the various Russian gift items to improve her writing. They're placed, museum-style, with each group of gifts.

"It helped me a lot. I didn't speak a lot before. They (customers) ask me a lot of questions," she said.

"The shop is wonderful. It's really unusual, one-of-a-kind items. And it's a beautiful site," said Nina Sneider, president of the West Fargo Chamber of Commerce, who was present at its ribbon cutting.

Bill Carlson of Alerus Financial arranged financing for the business, based on his longtime work with David Sholy and S&S Landscaping.

"I've stopped in there several times just to see how things are going," Carlson said. "She's a very driven person. ... I sure hope they do well with it."

It's been a busy time for the 29-year-old.

Trained as a dental surgeon in Russia, she's now working to get licensed in Minnesota.

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She also has a 6-week-old son, Nicholas, who needs a lot of mom's time.

And, part-time help has been tough to find.

So even though the store hours are officially 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, it doesn't hurt to call ahead to be sure its open -- (701) 277-8890.

"I'm not a very commercial person," Olga said, making it clear Nicholas is her No. 1 priority.

"I'm a Russian woman. For me, the most important thing is my son," she said. "I think it's important for him. I'll stay (at home) as long as possible."

David and Olga met at a Moscow railroad station. He was on a tour, she was visiting.

"We met, talked and went to a David Copperfield magic show," he said.

He made 11 visits to Russia over three years to see her and they eventually married. She also visited the United States. She finally came to the United States to stay in May 2002.

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Olga's mother, Tatiana Medvedeva, has been the buyer for the store, working with suppliers in Russia. She's visiting the Fargo-Moorhead area next week.

David runs Fargo's S&S Landscaping with his brother, George. But, he also regularly takes a turn at the shop.

It's clear he has a love of Russia and Russians as he explains the craftsmanship that goes into the gifts.

But he also has a businessman's eye on the upcoming Christmas season. Last year, it was a busy time for Volga Boutique.

"If you get a gift from this place, you probably don't have one already," he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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