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Monthly Archives: December 2011

Totsie Children’s Boutique – Celebrating 1st Christmas

I was so excited when I heard that a new children’s boutique was opening in my neighborhood – unfortunately, not because my kids would benefit from local cute garb as they have grown way out of those sizes – but because I will take it as a good sign for our economy.  When surrounded my For Lease signs, a new store sign is like the first spring flowers breaking through the snow, an image I still have from growing up on the east coast.  Welcome, Totsie!

Owner, Megan Marshall, has an eye for clean and simple.  The store as well as the merchandise reflect that, it really is a breath of fresh air walking in the door!  While most of the merchandise is apparel, she does offer a variety of gift items, children’s jewelry and accessories, some plush, great lunch boxes, and more.  What do I love? Well, I adore the storage bins from 3 Sprouts.  Big.  Eco-friendly canvas.  Great graphics.  And as Megan pointed out, you don’t have to be a kid to use one – they make great laundry baskets!

Totsie Children’s Boutique, 359 Old Newport Blvd., Newport Beach, CA  (949) 645-1805

Seed People at The Camp – Have a Very Green Christmas

When my husband and I left our funky Mission neighborhood in San Francisco to move to Orange County 15 + years ago, my husband’s sister set out to prove that Orange County had its own edgy flavor.  So she brought us to the then fairly new mall (or anti-mall as it prefers to be billed), The Lab.  For anyone who has been to San Francisco, I am sure you can assume that Orange County was not instantly transformed in our minds to the eclectic streets, stores, and people our beloved city by the bay.  However, The Lab does have cool stores and it does speak to some of Orange County’s hipper tendencies that it has not only done well, it has thrived.  Enough to open a sister property across the street some years ago.

Truthfully, my first trip to The Camp was about six months ago.  With its emphasis on outdoor lifestyle, hot sweaty yoga, and healthy food choices, I really didn’t picture myself as their target market.  I wish I did embrace all of those things, but as I sat down to right this, I just finished my breakfast of chocolate chip cookies (it is the holidays, you know…).  However, what I discovered when I did check it out one day, is that The Seed People’s Market is a fabulous reason to go to The Camp, and once on the grounds, the smell of healthy food is actually quite appealing!  (There is no way I am going to take sweaty yoga there, but I did see a lot of drenched people walking to and fro.)

The Seed People’s Market is the brainchild of The Lab and The Camp’s landlords, Linda and Shaheen Sadeghi.  Looking to fill the spot of flagship store on the property, they started to scout the country for eco-friendly department store type retailers.  What they found? Nothing.  So, knowing what their vision was, they decided to be the first!  The store is fabulous on many different levels.  First of all the layout and overall feel is awesome.  Large and roomy with lots of little nooks making it perfect to have a variety of products.  With an extremely high ceilings and a loft, there is lots of room to decorate, and decorate they do.  They have merchandising students from the Art Institute, design and install seasonal displays.  The result is ultra-hip and fun.

Then, of course, they fill it with awesome products that are sold at reasonable prices.  The top-selling line in the store is Patagonia, one of the highest quality outdoor / sports apparel lines around.  And while I don’t climb mountains, I do applaud Patagonia’s recent campaign of quality over mass consumption – pretty impressive move for a manufacturer!  The store also carries a selection of shoes, some smaller label action sportswear lines.  And then the gift section, which is what I go there for – they have a great selection of natural body care and cosmetics.  Jewelry found from local Etsy type artists.  A kitchen section of beautiful bamboo bowls, handmade aprons, eco-friendly lunch boxes and storage containers.  A very cool book section (would love to copy the decor in there!), some standard gift items (right now they have a selection of fun Christmas tree ornaments).  And of course, a children’s section with apparel, accessories, books, and eco-friendly toys.

My pick of the day – the Kauzbots.  Kauzbots are created locally (Costa Mesa) by a group of people with a passion for making a difference in the world.  The line consists of 10 kauzbots – robot looking soft dolls – who each represent a different charity.  10% of the retail price of these cute guys is donated to the cause it represents.  The colors are bright and appealing for little people and big people alike making them very collectible.  A very inspiring gift!  Choose from pediatric or breast cancer, the environment, poverty and hunger, homelessness, autism, clean water, and more!

A Sweet Stop For Sure!

 

If you haven’t had the opportunity to check out Powell’s Sweet Shoppe, you should!  As a franchise, there are a variety of locations from which to choose.  For those of us in the Orange County area, there is one in Long Beach and one in Laguna Niguel.  By definition of a franchise, they should carry almost identical stock.  But it has been a couple of years since I was in the Long Beach location so for the purpose of this blog the references will be made about the Laguna Niguel location.

When I met with Victoria, the wife in the husband and wife ownership team, she told me that the first time they stepped into a Powell’s Sweet Shoppe they were there for over three hours.  (It’s a big candy store but, it’s not Nordstrom’s – they were entranced!)  And when they left that store, they knew that they were going to open their own.  I love stories that involve a magical moment of epiphany!  So she left her 10+ years at big corporate job and is living the dream!  And I mean it.

This is what I love about her vision – while the concept is a step back to a simpler time store, the activity within the store is evolving.  For instance, it is possible to throw a birthday party within the store.  They provide a welcoming craft that kids can work on as they arrive, some games, (don’t want to share her secrets, but they are really cute!) party favors that the kids collect from the store throughout the party, and some other activities.  But Victoria knows that if the parties are going to continue, she is going to have to have a varied repertoire from which to pull so that they are not all cookie cutter events.  Meaning if Mary Jane has her party there and her best friend Susie loves it so much she wants her party there, Susie’s party will have the same feel but will include different activities.  SMART!

The merchandise within the store will cover just about everyone on your list.  There are candies that you haven’t seen in thirty years, meaning your kids have never seen them.  Many treats have themed wrappers for both adults and kids.  Love the gum cigarettes.  The 3 foot long licorice.  The wax mustaches. The mints in clever tins.  The candy bars I didn’t even know they still made.  There are also beautifully crafted chocolates.  Incredible gelato that is delivered once a month in a special freezer truck and when it is, all hands are on deck getting it put away.  There are retro toys, cool lunch boxes, funky hats, colorful umbrellas – the stock is literally hanging from the ceiling.  And once you are in there, you can see how someone might spend 3 hours browsing cause you get the feeling that you just can’t see all of it in one trip.

My pick of the day.  The bacon candy canes.  Need I say more?

Powell’s Sweet Shoppe, 27000 Alicia Parkway, Suite E, Laguna Niguel.  (949) 831-9652

 

Newport Cottages – a New Cozy Location

 

Have you seen Newport Cottages new location in Fashion Island, Newport Beach?  It is stunning.  Located in the Atrium Court, across from Barnes & Noble and facing the concierge, this gorgeous store has plenty of room to show off  its own brand of children’s furnishing.  The company was started by husband and wife team Pockets and Cristina Alvarez after furniture shopping for their own first child left wanting something different from what was being offered on the market at that time.  With experience already in the furniture industry, they decided to give their own designs a go.  Fifteen years later, their furnishings can be found in fine showrooms around the country.  But the Fashion Island store is their only company store location.

In addition to baby and children’s furnishings, Newport Cottages carries a variety of layette pieces, great room accessories, and unique toys and gifts.  Not only is it the perfect stop for shower gifts, there is an awesome selection making it great place to discover a hard to find gift.  Some of the staff’s favorite items are the beautiful music boxes by MK & Company based on the charming artwork of Marykate Fleming, a children’s apparel designer.  Each piece has features careful attention to detail, making it an instant favorite for the lucky owner.  Newport Cottages carries many styles from which to choose.

Independents not too far from Orange County

I’m still playing catch up on my countdown so let’s go for a twosie.  A couple of weeks ago I was down in San Diego County checking on a couple of great toy stores, and if you are down that way, you should stop in and tell them Kim sent you.

Christy’s Toy Outlet is located 30 miles east of San Diego in Alpine.  The first thing you will notice as you drive past USD and then SDSU is that your surroundings change quite a bit – the area is low-lying old mountains that catch the wintry light just right and make you feel as though you are no where close to the beach.  The Viejas Outlet Mall has some of the big names you would expect – Nike, Gap, Osh Kosh by Gosh.  But they also have this huge independent toy store owned by a fellow rep for specialty children’s products, Christy (you probably guessed that.)  The appearance of the mall is very southwest, and truly very pleasant.  And Christy’s Toy Outlet is a gem within this setting.  With a number of years in the industry selling to other independent toy stores, Christy not only has a great eye, she literally has her finger on the pulse of what is selling and she makes sure she is well stocked in the hottest items.  The selection is a little bit of everything meaning that when anybody walks in and asks for a specific item, her response is, “Yes, we have some of that.  Try aisle…”  What has been hot this season?  Well, for one, this very cool single portion Mugz ice cream making machine.  The coolest part is that the ingredients for which it calls are normal ice cream ingredients like milk, cream, and sugar – not some prepackaged mix that you need to make this yummy treat.

After leaving Christy’s that day, I headed to northern San Diego to check in with Totally Thomas’ Toy Depot, another great toy store.

As you may be thinking, this one specializes in Thomas and other train programs.  If you are wondering why the store feels that the trains are such an important product, make sure you ask Cindy, the owner, when you are there.  She has a vast amount of information on how playing with toy train systems when very young helps children with their math skills as they get older.  It’s pretty interesting stuff.  Of course, the store carries lots of other products as well, such as Hello Kitty, some great arts and crafts, and science as well.  But the store is known for its train systems and one of my favorites is the Nuchi line which is designed in Sweden and made from European beechwood.   The system is compatible with Thomas and the majority of other train systems.  What I love about it is that they have a handful of complete systems that are ready to operate as is, or can be added to if the child embraces the idea.  The pieces come in awesome boxes that highlight its gift nature and also give kids a great place to store the pieces after play.

Christy’s Toy Outlet, 5001 Willows Road, Suite 401, Alpine, CA  (619) 659-9898

Totally Thomas Toy Depot, 11860 Carmel Mountain Road, Suite 212, San Diego, CA  (858) 513-2479

It’s 10:00 am and I Have Found a New Favorite Store!

 

Getting ready to head out and do some more of my own holiday shopping.  Writing orders with stores for the past few weeks and heading to sales meetings out-of-town mean that I am a little behind the 8-ball so to speak.  But my daughter is knocking her list down in a quick stride.  You know what I like about how she shops? – she looks at an item and finds its value based in how much the recipient will enjoy it, NOT how much the price tag says it’s worth.  There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

We were out and about this morning for a performance that she had at a little gathering of independents at the Pelican Courtyard Fleamarket and we stumbled upon this great shop called Winnow just off of PCH in Newport Beach.  It was full of artisan products, decor, ornaments, home accessories.  There was so much cool stuff and while some was a little pricey, most was really reasonable.  The selection of ornaments was fun – lots of hand crafted animals made from felt or other natural materials.  Purchasing some of them benefited small charities worldwide.  My daughter bought a variety of handmade soaps that she thought some of the ladies on her list would enjoy.  There was a small corner of some great knit baby toys by Yellow Label Kids, a great line of products that are made from around the world.  The focus of the line is to make sure that the individuals who craft the products are paid fair wages according to the Fair Trade standards, and that the products they create are environmentally sound.  The topper is that the products are adorable.

Learned So Much – Couldn’t Wait to Share!

Had a great 3 days in Vegas.  At sales meetings.  (Of course, there was some time to do a little damage to my wallet, too.  But that’s a whole nother blog.)

Overall message from the other reps that I met and got to listen to, is that our independent stores across the country are hurting.  And while economy is a factor – it’s an indirect factor.  Because people are earning less, they are shopping for the deal – and the deal is on Amazon.  So, this is an interesting fact – some of the manufacturers reported that sales were down in the specialty markets (your local mom and pop toy shops – you know – the ones with free gift wrapping, and the playdates where you bring the kids for a fun afternoon activity) but the new category, “internet sales”, were up enough that the overall sales were not only NOT down for the year, in most cases, they were UP!  Which means that we as a country are not really buying less (at least in the specialty toy category), we are buying different.  We are buying shortsightedly.

I am not going to say I never shop on Amazon and nobody else should either.  I am just going to say, we should think first.  I, too, have kids who tell me they need a book the night before they need it.  And jumping on Amazon to order it and knowing that they will only have one class without is an amazing thing.  The fact that I don’t have to chase all over town looking for said title when I really have other things to do, is even better.  I do get it.  I guess what I am saying is that if we don’t figure out a way to balance our purchasing power, we are actually going to end up with way fewer choices.  Like when you do all of your Christmas toy shopping on Amazon, don’t be surprised if you find your local toy shop gone in January when you need a cute, thoughtful, unique, birthday gift in a pinch.  Sure you can buy a Target gift card on your way to the celebration.  That’s always fun to watch being opened at the party.  (Another case for why there should be a sarcastic font.)  And that is the thought that just keeps me writing about this topic – we could wake up one day and find that all of our cute stores are gone with our choices to shop online, or at Target, Walmart or Costco.  It really could happen.

And if that is not a scary enough thought to make you consider where you buy – check out this story!  Amazon is giving customers $ rewards for going into brick and mortar stores and using their phones to scan bar codes and send the data back to Amazon.  While I am sure it is legal, in my book, there are some major moral red flags.  I cannot even imagine having the gall to do that in someone’s store.  Someone who spends hours planning the purchases, paying employees, rent, marketing, etc. Wow!  Just wow!

So for now, thank goodness there are some awesome stores to do your holiday shopping!  And one of my favorite places to stroll and find cute things is Newport Beach’s Balboa Island.  Recognized on many national lists of where to go to see stunning Christmas lights, this is a win/win locale!  Great sights, great stores, fun restaurants – memorable family holiday outing.  Remember, I owe you two stores today.  Balboa Island is an easy place to write about because 99% of the stores on Marine Ave. are independently owned.

One of my favorites is Even Sisters.

The store has been around forever, and has had various owners (some of the most recent owners, Katie and Helen, are still around and working in the store on days that they are not pursuing new ventures such as grandkids and pet photography enhancements) the most recent owner, Corie, has kept the store stocked with great surfwear lines, fun jewelry, and unique gifts.  The cow is still out front (if you aren’t familiar with the store, check it out, and you will get what I am talking about), and it is usually filled with local customers who frequently know each other and stop their browsing for a little while to catch up.  Right now, the store has an incredible selection of Tom’s shoes.  And I am happy to write about Tom’s cause their business ideology is pretty great – buy a pair of shoes and another pair is automatically donated to someone who is currently going without shoes in a third world country.  Combine that fact with the fashion forward styles of shoes they offer and you can see why they are so popular (yes, both of my kids started out the school year with a new pair!)  Even Sisters has all the styles with the holiday perfect sparkly variety front and center – check it out!

And in the same block, another fav – Our Gang’s General Store.

Jill, the owner, keeps this tiny two lane store stocked from top to bottom with best sellers in more categories than you can believe she can cram in there- always displayed in a fun and inviting way.  From early activities for babies to cute flags with quotes about happy hour, it’s in there!  She has been known for over a decade for her selection of wind ups, including numerous vintage styles.  She also carries a small selection of quirky book titles.  A couple of years ago Santa purchased from her store the “How to Behave and Why” title and left it under our tree.  Games, cards, plush, party favors, Balboa mementos – truly something fun and unique for everyone on your list!  Featured toy – the newest version of Bucky Cube – very powerful magnet set that you can manipulate in incredible ways.  Great fidgety toy for the teens (and maybe even a stocking stuffer for the husband).

Even Sisters, 207 Marine Ave, Newport Beach (949) 673-2130

Our Gang’s General Store, 217 1/2 Marine Ave., Newport Beach  (949) 675-0666