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Downtown boutiques sticking together through holiday shopping

by Scott Neuffer

On Wednesday morning, Coleville resident Maggie Feltgen drove 45 minutes with her 2-year-old daughter Evelyn and 2-year-old nephew TG Smith. Their destination was Baby Willows, a children’s boutique in downtown Gardnerville.

“We love Baby Willows,” Feltgen said.

The 23-year-old mother, whose husband works at the Pickel Meadow Mountain Warfare Training Center near Bridgeport, said holiday shopping would be different this year because of the unpredictable economy.

“We’re definitely cutting back,” she said. “We’re not buying adult gifts, just gifts for the kids. We’ve never done that before, but the kids are the important ones.”

Retailers across the country are feeling the effects of people cutting back.

Baby Willows owner Judy Procaccini said if her store doesn’t pull in enough revenue from Christmas sales, she will have to close.

“Last Christmas was 50 percent down from the year before,” she said. “If this Christmas doesn’t go well, I’m going to liquidate the shop and just keep my online store.”

Procaccini urged the community to support small businesses.

“These are your shops in your town,” she said. “If you don’t support them, they will go away.”

Procaccini said she competes with larger retail stores by offering items they won’t carry.

“I can’t compete with the box stores, so I have to offer unique items that no one else has,” she said.

She pointed to her most popular items “Terra Traditions linen baby books with crystal-studded covers, sonogram frames, Noodle & Boo baby shampoos and lotions.

“Boutiques have something unique for every budget,” she said. “It’s not like wasting gas going to Target. Customers can tell me what they want to spend, and I’ll find great gifts for them.”

Jody Branson, owner of adjacent gift shop Fresh Ideas, said personable customer service keeps people coming through her doors.

“Quality is important,” she said. “We offer customer service that you can’t get at the big box stores.”

Kristen Lewandowski, who commutes from Carson City to work at Fresh Ideas, said the store has a loyal customer base.

“There are customers that always come in here no matter what,” she said.

Lewandowski said the biggest hits of the holiday season have been the store’s glass wine stoppers, monogram letter coffee mugs, and Lodis flat wallets.

“Girls like the flat wallets because if they’re going into a store, they don’t have to bring in their purses,” she said. “They can bring the wallets instead.”

Lewandowski also pointed out some quirky stocking stuffers, such as Poo-Pourri, scented oils to be dispensed in a toilet before bathroom use.

Branson said she is willing to do what it takes to serve her customers on the holidays, including working on Sundays.

“I have to be here for the people,” she said. “They can’t always make it in during the week.”

Baby Willows and Fresh Ideas recently teamed up with Classical Glass and Gifts, just south of the two stores, for a Christmas open house.

Classical Glass owner Becky Soderman said the three businesses frequently work together. She said the open house was a success.

“People came out and were in the mood to shop,” she said. “We have customers who live out of state, in California and Florida, that call us every year to make sure it’s going on.”

Soderman said business was slow prior to the holiday season.

“In September and August, it was a little scary,” she said. “I was worried. But it really has picked up since then.”

One thing Soderman did differently this year was put out her Christmas decorations early.

“Usually, I wait until after Halloween,” she said. “This year, I put them out a week earlier, and we started selling ornaments right away.”

Classical Glass sells artistic glass pieces, jewelry and home decor items, like sculpted-metal lawn animals and blown-glass window balls. But the store also sells a variety of music CDs.

“I try to branch out and diversify,” Soderman said. “Although, it’s hard to find gifts for men.”

Like Procaccini and Branson, Soderman tries to work with customers’ individual budgets.

“People come in and know that they can find something within their budget,” she said.

Kati Malone has worked at Classical Glass for 10 years.

“We try to support each other,” she said of the neighboring stores.

Her 6-month-old daughter, Lillian, was sporting an outfit from Baby Willows.

“We promote each other’s stuff,” Malone added.

The three shops are located along Highway 395 just north of Sharkey’s Casino. Fresh Ideas can be reached at 782-4094, Baby Willows at 783-0884 and Classical Glass at 782-5830.