Photography by Alyssa Rosenheck.
Who: Tracy Lorton Salisbury
Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma
Occupation: Shop owner and interior designer
THE STORY: Tracy Lorton Salisbury became a small business owner more than three decades ago, when as a 22-year-old New York City transplant she received a phone call from her mother about an 800-square-foot retail space opening up in her hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Armed with just enough retail experience and a lot of passion, she returned to Tulsa and opened TA Lorton, a home decor shop filled with carefully selected goods and furnishings. Over the past 30-plus years, she has continually expanded into larger spaces and added on an interior design side to the business. Still, the conviction and entrepreneurial draw she felt in her early 20s remains. “When people ask me what I do, I always answer that I’m just a girl with a truck,” Salisbury says. “And a shop full of hand-picked finds.”
THE BEGINNING: Salisbury grew up in Tulsa, attended boarding school in Virginia, and graduated from University of Kansas with a degree in elementary education, working all the while in various retail jobs. Though she’d always had an interest in design, and her dorm mates often sought out her advice when decorating their rooms, she simply never thought of it as an option for a degree.
Right out of college, Salisbury had a desire to open her own retail business. “I had a great family friend who was a mentor, and he discouraged me from opening my own shop right away,” she says. “He’d been in the field forever and had a beautiful store, so I really took his advice to heart.” She heeded his recommendation and moved to New York City to get some real, hands-on experience, but her dream would not be deferred for long. “The thing he didn’t know about me was the depth of my passion and the vision I had.” So a year later, when the opportunity arose, she took it as a sign, and leaped at it. ”When I finally opened my shop I was determined not to fail,” she says. “It was my absolute passion, and I was going to give it everything I had. I was day in and day out breathing the shop. And I couldn’t have been happier.”
Photography by Amy Herndon Photography.
All of that hard work paid off; Salisbury was instantly met with success, thanks to her ability to follow her instincts and trust her style. “I always had an innate interest in design, homes, linens, tabletop, and all things handmade,” she explains. “My guiding factor was what interested me and what I needed in my life.” She discovered early on that what she wanted was not easily found in the marketplace, so she set about sourcing it and making it available to others. “As my friends started getting married, the norm of the time was registering for fine china, but I was drawn to gorgeous, casual pottery.” Instead of going the traditional route, she offered her friends, and ultimately her customers, a wonderful, unique alternative.
THE JOURNEY. A year after Salisbury opened her shop, she had the opportunity to expand into a 3,000-square-foot space next door. “I’ve always approached my business from a very practical point of view,” she says. “Can I make the rent each month? If I can do that, then I can make it work.”
Soon thereafter, Salisbury struck up a wonderful friendship and mentorship with Charles Faudree, a world-renowned interior designer and author of six design books. “He had a brilliant eye, and together we would travel to Europe twice a year to scout out wonderful finds.” Through her relationship with Faudree, Salisbury built upon her innate design knowledge. “For many years I was full of insecurities and the fact that I didn’t go to design school,” she recalls. But in time, she realized that her relationship with Faudree for 30 years more than made up for her lack of formal training.
The first eight years of TA Lorton’s existence, Salisbury lived, breathed, and slept her businesses. “I had my hand in everything and not a ton of staff,” she says. “I learned it all.” Salisbury now considers the fact that she knows how to display, help customers, do the buying, and set up computers a major strength as both a business owner and a manager. “This is important, because I know how to talk to everyone in every position. Maybe I don’t continue to do all the work, but know how, and I have a better understanding of what I need done and how to communicate that to my employees.” Because of her hands-on approach, Salisbury is always looking for a better way to do business, and perhaps most importantly, recognizes how and when to pivot.
Around the time Salisbury felt her shop was firmly established, she started a family. The demand of home life, and her shop’s ever-increasing rent, made her wonder if she could keep it all up. Simultaneously, her mentor made a move that created a new opportunity for her to consider. “Charles bought a building on Utica Street that was not a part of the hustle and bustle, and he offered me a space next to him for one-fifth of what I was currently paying,” she says. While a bit concerned about foot traffic, Lorton once more made a decision based on the bottom line, considering how the lower rent would enable her some much-needed freedom. Her gamble paid off, and TA Lorton thrived in the space for the next 19 years.
THE FUTURE. Lorton’s shop, through all of the decades and different locations, has always been influenced by her current tastes and needs. “That sounds weird when you say it out loud, but it’s true,” she says. “It’s a reflection of where I am in my life.” When she opened her first store, she was single and frequently entertaining friends, so she stocked the shop with the beautiful things she felt were essential to setting up her first home. Around the time she got married, she looked at the store through the lens of a wedding registry. Once the now mom of three added babies to the mix, she weaved in pieces that would make her clients’ children’s rooms feel special. Now, at 56, Salisbury has developed a more refined eye, but her shop still mirrors how she lives and what thrills her.
Photography by Amy Herndon Photography.
In August of 2020, Salisbury moved into a 10,000-square-foot building she’d purchased in the fall of 2019. She’d gutted and renovated it to reveal a wonderful light-filled space that was not only a showroom, but also a storehouse for the burgeoning design business she started in 2012. “Long ago Charles said to me, you can’t just have a shop, you also need to offer a service,” she says. Early on, when a customer would purchase a piece of furniture, she’d take it over in her truck with a few other odds and ends for the client to try out. She’d get busy rearranging furniture, styling coffee tables, and placing gorgeous decorative items that would delight her clients in just the perfect place. Innately, she was a designer, but it wasn’t until her youngest child went to college that she was freed up to dedicate more time to her design services. “Before that, I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was just surviving,” she says. “Being able to go into someone’s house, and layer in 10 more things, it’s a key part of my success.”
Today, the expansive shop she’s created practically sells itself. Clients walk in and walk out with a couch with nary a word from a salesperson (though they are present if needed). Salisbury has a hard time keeping things in stock, but the upside is that enables her to continue going out into the market, sourcing new merchandise. “So much of my vision is me constantly searching for new things that are beautiful and unique,” she says. “And then it’s not necessarily about the sale, it’s about me and my enthusiasm to show them to my friends. ‘Look what I’ve found, isn’t this amazing.’”
THE SECRET TO HER SUCCESS: Two recurring questions in Salisbury’s life, from both friends and strangers, have been, “Where did you find this?” and, “How did you know how to put this room together?” She took these constant queries as signs that sourcing and designing were part of her career path, or at least talents she should pursue. Now, she tells her children, young employees, and interns, “What seems easy to you is most likely a skill. When it doesn’t seem hard, it’s most likely what you should be doing. Lean into the easy and effortless part, layer it with tons of knowledge and education, and it can become a golden career.” Salisbury has done just that, leaned into her skills, and in turn, brought joy—and beauty—into so many people’s homes and lives.
THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY: TA Lorton was the first business to sign on for the first volume of The Scout Guide Tulsa, and has been in each subsequent volume since. Salisbury had first discovered the guide in Aspen, then Jackson Hole, and then in Virginia. “I love getting to know new cities when I travel, finding great shops to go see and be inspired,” she says. “The Scout Guide provides a wonderful shortcut in knowing where to go. I was so excited when Tulsa got one, and thrilled to be a part of it.”
TSG Tulsa editor Hannah Arnaud notes the unique items and beautiful aesthetic of Salisbury’s shop as reasons why she wanted to feature it in the guide, and cites Salisbury’s innate capacity to be a “connector” as a key reason why she’s an ideal part of the network of local businesses. “She has introduced me to countless business owners,” says Arnaud, a self-described TA Lorton “fangirl.”
Salisbury herself feels grateful for the Tulsa community, both on a professional and personal level. Born and raised in the city, her familial roots there run deep, and she has long had ties to many organizations and institutions. “I was beyond fortunate to have so many cheerleaders cheering me on to succeed. It’s immeasurable the confidence that gave me,” she says of when she was just launching her business. “The community of Tulsa and the surrounding cities is the number one reason for my success. It makes me tear up just thinking about it. I was 22.”
That support has remained over the years, and the relationships have evolved along with the shop. “Your customers become personal to you. They become a family. So many people love to tell me about the first time they came to my shop, and what wonderful thing they bought and still have,” Salisbury says. “People tell me they would rewrap presents to friends in our boxes because it would elevate their gifts. This always makes me smile. Like it’s a Tiffany blue box or something. I’m just beyond thrilled that customers would feel we are that special of a shop.”
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