Inside SY Valley
Family Coats of Arms
Donna Wheatley babies her feet during a break at her shop, Family Coats of Arms, on Copenhagen Drive. With a cup of coffee in hand she explains the treadmill in the break area and her sore feet.
“I’m in training for a marathon,” she says with a sigh. After years of considering marathon running, the once avid runner saw an ad for an arthritis fundraising marathon and decided to enter. “Twenty-six point two miles &emdash; do you think I can do it in slippers?” she jokes.
On most days though, Wheatley can be found behind the counter at Solvang Family Coats of Arms printing and framing family name histories and colorful coats of arms.
The shop has been in Solvang 27 years, however Wheatley left her real estate career to purchase the shop only 15 years ago. “It was the uniqueness of the shop that attracted me,” Wheatley said. “It’s very, very unique. I can’t emphasize this enough.”
Family Coats of Arms has always produced the custom hand painted plaques and embroidered items, but eight years ago the introduction of computers at the shop created big changes, and Wheatley became able to provide instant printed colored coats of arms and family name histories.
“We do the coats of arms, name history and framing for customers right on the spot. People like getting the package instantly,” Wheatley said.
The only items not immediately available are orders for the stunningly beautiful embroidered coats of arms and custom made plaques, which Wheatley sends to outside suppliers. They are mailed directly to the customer some 10 to 12 weeks later.
But even instant products can take time. Wheatley remembers one couple who came into her store who couldn’t decide between the family name history or a coats of arms. After much pondering, they left with both when they couldn’t come to a decision. Often that’s the case with those items, which happen to be popular sellers.
Wheatley says the most popular item is probably the coats of arms, whatever style. “They’re really very popular and personal. If someone is looking for a unique, one-of-a kind gift, that also needs to be personal, you’ll never find a product more personal.”
Wheatley has more than two thousand names stored in computers at the shop that come from ancient European record books. An open catalog of names for customers to browse at the store entrance lists a myriad of names for which the shop has a history.
It is the baby-boomer generation that are becoming increasingly more interested in their family heritage that are excited to find Family Coats of Arms in Solvang, where they can fit bits of information that further explain their personal ancestry.
“Though we don’t do genealogy, the family name and history and coats of arms enhance genealogy. In the past few years I’ve noticed more and more people are becoming interested in their family history,” Wheatley said.
The shop has two locations, one in the Petersen Village on the corner of Mission Drive & Atterdag Road and another on Copenhagen Drive. The Petersen Village location was Wheatley’s original store and the Copenhagen shop opened just five years ago.
Wheatley has increased her work force to one full-time employee and four part-timers, including students that help out on weekends framing and shipping. “I was the solo employee for a good half a dozen years. When the computers came it enhanced and increased business so much I needed help,” she says.
Two local high-school students who learned framing at Family Coats of Arms, their first job at the age of 15, liked the job so much they stayed through all four years of high school. “You’re constantly talking to people and it’s not for everyone but it’s good for young people to learn how to relate to the public,”
One piece of information the staff at Family Coats of Arms offers often comes as a big surprise. “Not every name has a coats of arms,” Wheatley said. “They were an award from the king to be passed down from generation to generation.”
The fun of it all lies in the anticipation of finding your own family name, that has survived umpteen generations to find its way to Family Coat of Arms.