Merchants on the rise: Small shop owners counter Black Friday hoopla |

Merchants on the rise: Small shop owners counter Black Friday hoopla

by Scott Neuffer

Forget the box stores and cheap imports. Forget the crowded gawkers and sales reps. Forget the whole merry mess of Black Friday and discover what local mom-and-pops have to offer – that’s the message of small shop owners in Carson Valley this holiday season.

“We purposely avoid carrying any line that we can find in the big box stores,” said Bill Thomas, owner of Especially For You in downtown Gardnerville.

“We offer clothing and accessories that you can’t find anywhere else,” added Marcia Voeller, Thomas’ long-time business partner.

For the last 15 years, Voeller and Thomas have represented a rare face of prosperity – a 3,500-square-foot boutique in the heart of the historic district. It is a store that has outlasted many like it and yet has maintained its competitiveness with the chain behemoths on the hill.

“In this economy, service means a great deal,” Thomas said.

At Especially For You, service means free gift wrapping for the holidays, wishlists for the ladies, and a “desperate dude” day for the gents.

The latter, scheduled for 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 4, prevents men from having any excuses in terms of ideal gift-giving. The wishlists of their better halves are safely filed at the store, and an entire Sunday afternoon is dedicated to the fulfillment of those wishlists. Cigars and refreshments will be provided for the men who attend.

“If we can get guys comfortable in the store the first time, then they will come in again for birthdays and anniversaries,” said Thomas. “We make sure the women write down their size and also provide several choices, just in case one goes.”

Besides customer service, Especially For You relies on its 140 different product lines to entice customers. When the store first opened 15 years ago, the inventory was comprised mostly of gift items. Now, about 75 percent of the store’s merchandise is clothes and accessories.

Thomas estimated about 10-15 percent of total inventory is manufactured in America. He complied a list of 15 product lines with U.S. labels, ranging from Mary Lake Thompson tea towels, aprons and cookies to Jess and Jane Clothing to Gooseberry Patch Cookbooks.

“Most printed materials are printed in the U.S.,” he said. “With some of the other products, the raw material comes from here, passes out of the country for manufacturing, then comes back for finishing.”

For a diverse boutique, Voeller said, it’s difficult to stock entirely American-made goods.

“Quality of the product is right up there with style and appeal,” she said. “If it’s made in America, that’s a bonus, but harder to find. We do get a few people in here who totally want made-in-America stuff. If they find something they like, then they come back.”

An open house at the store during the first week of November officially kicked off the holiday shopping season.

“It was well attended. It gets us in motion,” Voeller said.

“More and more the Main Street Gardnerville events, like the wine walks, put this town on the map,” Thomas added.

Located at 1218 Eddy Street, Especially For You’s regular business hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Holiday hours have been extended to 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

Call 782-1966 for more information.

On the other side of town, Lee Lewis, owner of Heartstrings Gallery and Gifts, has also been preparing for the holiday rush.

“I just started to see Christmas shoppers last Saturday,” she said. “This is my third holiday season. Things usually drop off in January, then it’s just my regular customers. I look forward to the holidays because they always bring something new.”

Lewis spent many years working in art galleries before becoming an artist herself.

“I surrounded myself with artwork for a long time, but I didn’t realize I’d be producing it,” she said.

About two and a half years ago, after a successful exhibit in a local gallery, Lewis opened Heartstrings in a 500-square-foot suite in the front section of the Copeland Cultural Arts Center, the historic warehouse in Minden that serves as an “incubator” for the Carson Valley Arts Council.

“In this economy, I’m hanging in there,” Lewis said. “I still have people who come in and discover the store for the first time. Once I get them through the door the first time, they become repeat customers.”

Lewis is more than the store’s proprietor – she is its main supplier. Her handmade jewelry, paintings, candles and other items make up 75 percent of the store’s inventory. The remaining merchandise comes from local artists, including photographer Richard Farrar. The store features many collaborative projects as well, such as watercolor enhancement of photography and sun-prints.

“It’s a whimsical store,” Lewis said. “There are a lot of different tastes and unique ideas.”

She said more people have been purchasing smaller gift items due to the economy.

“Giftware, jewelry, scarves, ornaments – more than wall art,” she said. “More affordable, smaller things.”

Like Especially For You, Heartstrings must stay competitive with the box stores.

“It’s really hard to compete with those stores because they can price everything so cheaply,” Lewis said. “But I do think artists try to take the economy into consideration, working with cheaper prices to be more competitive.”

In her view, shopping locally is not only good for the economy, but necessary to stave off the dominance of mass-produced goods.

“It’s important so we don’t cease to exist,” she said. “If you don’t want to see everything mass produced, then you have to support local stores and artists.”

Quality counts, Lewis maintained.

“Those products don’t have the same quality as something produced one piece at a time,” she said. “Custom work is fun, and it keeps us from getting stale.”

Customer service also counts. That’s why Lewis, like Voeller and Thomas, offers free gift wrapping and layaway service.

“I hope to be so busy this holiday season that I can’t take a break,” she said.

Located at 1572 Highway 395, Minden, Heartstrings Gallery and Gifts’ regular hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The store is also available by appointment.

Call 782-0817 for more information.