By Elizabeth Wickham
With shops closed to in-store shopping during the researching of this story, two owners and a manager of stationery and gift stores discussed what gift and home decor items have been selling and the changes they’ve made because of the coronavirus crisis.
“I am shipping from my store and currently I go into my store alone,” explained Margaret Haas, owner of Paper Pastries in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale, Calif.
Haas said her store is 1,100 square feet, which includes her workshop, meeting space and 500 square feet for shopping. “If we still have to implement social distancing, it would have to be by appointment only. You can come with one friend, but it’s not going to be the same as before,” Haas explained. She said people used to love to come into her store and rifle through her collection of a thousand cards.
“I used to host pop-ups, with local artists and makers, like ceramicists, candlemakers and jewelry makers. I’d make champagne punch and cupcakes and we would mill around.” She also formed the LA Pen Club and hosted monthly meetings for people who write letters to friends and family. “We met once a month at my store to write letters and share things we’ve gotten in the mail. I love snail mail myself. People come to the store for lettering pens, rubber stamps, stickers, labels, addressing guides — anything related to snail mail.”
Paper Pastries began as a home business with custom lettering and invitations. Haas began making rubber stamps, which has been her passion since she began collecting them at age 4. “I made rubber stamps from my own lettering that took off and I was featured in Sunset Magazine. I bought a laser to make stamps myself. I make the stamps in-house and I am a perfectionist,” she said. “People wanted rubber stamps, ink pads and greeting cards. That expanded into a whole gift shop.” She opened her store in 2015.
Haas said her best-selling home decor items are prints. “I have original prints that I buy from female artists from the United States, Canada and the UK. They are art prints at a great price point to give as gifts and include printed letterpress, silk screen and risographs.”
“People come to my shop for greeting cards. I have a frequent buyer program, which also works online, where when you buy 10 cards the 11th card is free. People come to me for greeting cards because they are building towards a reward. We pride ourselves on having the best selection of cards in Los Angeles.”
Without in-store shopping, Haas said she’s seen an increase in her online sales which she believes is due to her supportive community. “I’m going to focus on the online shop because I don’t see a return to in-person sales like it was before.”
Haas has a system to ensure her shipped items are sterilized. “I am really crazy about cleanliness. When I get shipments, I leave them in the box for a week, then I take them outside and l Lysol everything.”
Stephanie Loftus owns The Quill in Pacific Grove, a coastal town in Monterey County, Calif. The 1,300-square-foot store specializes in wedding invitations, stationery and gifts including toys, cookbooks, and hand creams.
“We are seeing an increase of sales in picture frames. I think that people are taking the time to organize their homes and gather photos that they had packed away or finally print them from their phones,” Loftus said. “Now more than ever, we are cherishing our memories of happy times with family and friends.”
Her easiest gifts to sell are related to self-care such as candle and diffusers and indoor activities. “Puzzles have been the best-selling item by far. We went through our entire stock in the first two weeks and have been stocking as many as possible since then.”
Loftus said, “When we reopen, we will limit the number of customers in the store and leave the door open so that no one has to touch the handle.” In addition, she will raise the dollar amount needed for signatures on credit card purchases so fewer people touch the signature pad. “We will be providing masks and hand sanitizer for all employees and will ask customers to wear masks. We’ll offer free delivery to local customers who aren’t comfortable coming in to shop.
“I anticipate our sales to begin recovering in August and September, provided we do not have a second wave of shelter-in-place orders. Many customers are anxious to resume shopping as soon as we open. Right now we are expecting to reopen in mid-June,” Loftus added.
“Baskets are one of our best-sellers,” said Jill DeDominicis, visitor experience manager of Shop Mingei, the gift shop for Mingei International Museum, located in Balboa Park in San Diego, Calif. “These are a great fit for our store, as our museum focuses on craft, folk art and design, with an emphasis on objects of daily use. So many different cultures produce baskets of various materials and shapes, and they are a perfect home décor item that also serves a purpose.”
She said they sell laundry hampers, lidded baskets for kids’ toys, small catch-alls for keys or jewelry and floor baskets for house plants. “We also carry a beautiful line of ceramics from Japan—plates, bowls, mugs, cups, and other kitchen items—that are affordable, microwave and dishwasher safe, and in fun patterns that you can mix and match. The great thing about these items is that people usually buy in multiples of four or more for sets.”
DeDominicis said the best-selling category for personal purchases and gift-giving is jewelry. “Our pieces range from handmade, artisan jewelry that goes for higher price points, to affordable earring, necklace and bracelet lines.” She said they stock simple, classic pieces that “work well with an existing jewelry collection, and larger pieces in bold colors, bigger sizes and fun shapes.”
They added greeting cards a year and a half ago. “These are a big seller for us, especially as a last minute add-on to a purchase. Many shoppers will buy a few extra to have on hand for future birthdays, thank you notes, and general occasions,” DeDominicis added.
Shop Mingei closed their Balboa Park store location in late 2018 for a major museum transformation project and moved to a temporary location in a different part of the city.
DeDominicis said that they closed the new location due to the coronavirus in mid-March. “When we do reopen, we expect to have some changes to our daily procedures to help protect our staff and customers’ health. These will include more detailed and regular cleanings of surfaces, less contact in our transactions, limiting the number of people in the store at a given time, and other precautions suggested by health experts.”
Shop Mingei, located in the museum, is about 1,250 square feet. “We don’t anticipate our sales to fully recover to our previous amounts until we officially reopen the museum, which is planned for Summer 2021,” she added.