Window of Opportunity

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Instagramming from Paris Market has become quite a thing. Walk in and you’ll likely find a blogger in the café, artfully arranging her cappuccino and pastel macarons on a marble tabletop. Or a SCAD kid who #hasthisthingwithfloors, angling a phone over his Converse sneakers atop the well-worn pine planks. Or pairs of friends from near and far striking their best selfie pose outside the store’s grand windows.

That’s just the way it goes when a space is filled with so much beauty, creativity and cool. And it’s all because of Paula Danyluk, who had a vision as soon as she stepped foot in the then-decrepit building, with its painted-over windows and pigeons flapping in and out of gaping holes in the ceiling. Somehow, she knew: The basement would be enchanting and homey with dimly lit chandeliers, set tables, dressed beds and antique shelves stacked with books, paintings, shells and taxidermy. Upstairs would be filled with gifts and objects, all small enough to fit in a suitcase. A café would serve French pastries, coffee and charm. And of course, whimsical windows would stop passersby in their tracks.

From the moment Danyluk opened her 12-foot-high doors in 2004, it all just worked. The holiday season is a particularly high-traffic time of year when the shop traditionally sells more than 50,000 items. Danyluk says the madness begins the first week of October and doesn’t stop until they call it quits at 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve. On one such busy fall day, Danyluk takes a break from unpacking and tagging ornaments. Against type, she’s doing her best to relax, settled into the corner of a newly upholstered moss-green velvet banquette in the café. Though she’s sophisticated in orange silk and simple gold jewelry, her zippy energy is more like a teenager. She questions if the seating area could use a tall shelf devoted to European art-and-design magazines. She points out a smudge on a nearby terrarium that’s been bothering her since she noticed it. She scrolls through images of people and places that inspire her, dropping her voice to a hushed whisper whenever she gets to the best part of the story. She asks a salesperson to bring over her latest obsession, little sculptures of chicken feet cast in metal and dipped in bronze. “They’re quirky and weird and different and I love them,” Danyluk says. “An artist in Brooklyn makes them by hand. They’re strange, I know, but if I like them, that means there are people out there who will understand.”

Danyluk speaks in a fast clip that’s unusual for a Southerner. Born and raised in New Orleans, she learned her throwback work ethic from her parents, both factory workers. At the tender age of 11, she got her first job, on a friend’s family farm, and when she went to college, she hoped to study art. Her father urged her to pursue another discipline—he wanted a certain stability for his only daughter and thought a creative life would make that difficult. So she majored in speech pathology, then attended grad school on a scholarship.

Paula Danyluk in the Paris Market cafe. Photo by Cedric Smith

Her career took her to Charlotte, to Kansas City, to Baltimore. She met her soon-to-be husband, Taras, now an ER doctor, along the way, and after eloping to Australia, they decided to move back to New Orleans. But a hurricane detour brought them through Savannah. The year was 1999. “We were driving around and it felt so cool,” she recalls. “I just thought, I kinda like it here. Maybe we should stay.”

With that, Taras got a job at Memorial University Medical Center and Danyluk realized she didn’t want to return to speech pathology. She decided it was time to finally enroll in art school. First she studied architecture but she hated the technicalities of drafting, so she switched to interior design only to find herself with more drafting assignments. “I wanted to do painting but knew I couldn’t spend $80,000 on a painting degree,” she says, “so that’s when I decided: “I’ll open a store.”

She found a little spot on Whitaker Street, named it The Paris Flea Market (after one of her favorite places in the world) and filled it with antiques. She soon moved into a bigger space down the block, only to lose that lease when the building was sold. A few months later, she came upon her end-all-be-all on Broughton Street. She dropped the “flea” and replaced it with “brocante,” the French word for flea market, and The Paris Market and Brocante was born.

Fifteen years in and the vision is still very much Danyluk’s own. She has a dream team of 15, but does all the buying herself, relying heavily on Taras—“I go for the little stuff, he likes the metal things that weigh two tons”—and is always meeting with new designers. Just in time for the holidays, she’s collaborating on a line of brass home accessories and a vintage-inspired collection of jewelry, both with Savannah-rooted artisans. Danyluk’s favorite thing of all, though, is cooking up those magical window displays.

Last year, she floated a monstrous foam octopus over a treasure chest overflowing with vintage jewelry. After that, a mannequin in a cheerful yellow dress held a megaphone from which thousands of butterflies—cut from old newspapers and magazines—spilled out to form the word SPRING. A wanderlust theme was happening this fall: In one window, an 18th-century French daybed was layered with linens; in the other, Moroccan poufs around an antique Chinese coffee table piled high with mismatched dishes and faux fruit. The holiday season brings Danyluk’s notion of “wintering in Grey Gardens,” with everything feeling all frozen and peculiar. Think big chandeliers sprouting from snowy Christmas trees.

“The windows keep me going,” says Danyluk. “They’re so much work but I love all the little details that go into them. They feel the most like art.”