By Elizabeth Wickham
With stores and galleries reopening after closing for COVID-19, for this article three owners and managers of general, variety and gift stores discussed their current trends in sales of decorative signs and home deçor merchandise.
Karin Bennett owns the 10,000-square foot Cornerstone Shop & Gallery in Lake Geneva, Wis., with her husband Bruce. According to Bennett, they first purchased Artopia, a 1,000-square-foot store in 2004. She described it as “A North American artisan gallery with pottery, glass and textiles, sourced from shows and other artisan products from the United States.”

Caitlin Thies, store associate, the Cornerstone Shop & Gallery. Cards, garden items, outdoor furniture, telescopes and CR plastic furniture are currently selling well for the store.

In 2007, they moved down the street and purchased the Cornerstone from the previous owner.
“It was a main street location and our business went from 1,000 square feet to a 10,000-square-foot location. We sell a variety of gifts, home deçor, bath and body, clothing, furniture, original art and a variety of different things.”
Bennett said their store was closed mid-March and opened up May 15, after the state’s Supreme Court overturned the governor’s stay-at-home order.
“We have such a different crowd after reopening that it’s a new experience,” Bennet explained. “Illinois is still closed, but we are somewhat open. We are
getting a different crowd than in prior years, so trends are different from what I normally would see.”

Cornerstone Shop & Gallery Owner Karin Bennett photographed with apparel. The store also sells gifts, home décor, bath and body items, original art and more.

She said, “Today we sold a lot of cards, garden items and a fair amount of outdoor furniture, telescopes and CR plastic furniture. People want to be outside and avoid the crowds, but be with family and friends. They are avoiding restaurants and crowded places.” She added, “We sold a fair amount of clothing when we first reopened. People wanted clothing to brighten their wardrobes or cheer them up. They wanted something new after sheltering in place for COVID-19.”
According to Bennett, opening has been a slow process. “We are practicing social distancing, requesting people wear masks and we’re managing. This year we normally have throngs of people. Luckily with 10,000-square-feet of space, we have room and we’re keeping our eye on the crowds. It’s such a different world right now.”
Last year Bennett said that clothing was their biggest seller. “We are known for a mix of price points. People are here and if it works for them, they’ll buy. This year we are selling a fair amount of Mud Pie, baby and giftables. It’s a brand of really cute baby clothes, cute frames and dishes with sayings like ‘It’s 5 o guac somewhere’ or ‘Let’s taco about it.’ Clever and fun sayings. They also have a nice selection of bridal gifts. The price point is good and we’re a major vendor with them. Vera Bradley always sells, too. It’s a purse collection that amazingly younger girls buy it along with older ages.”
For decorative signs, Bennett said, “We sell a lot of baby signs that are hand painted by a local artist that are very reasonably priced.” They also sell lake art signs by Meissenburg Designs that can be customized for Lake Geneva.

Inez Devereaux, Bethany Hoelscher and Faith Emrich of Art Escape and The Escape. Hoelscher is the manager for both stores. Devereaux and Emrich are both based at Art Escape but are also involved with social media for both locations.

“We have a really great design team that work on tablescape displays,” Bennett said. “We work to get everything out that we can so every square inch is covered. With the higher-end items, like Vietri Italian tableware, we’ll have a beautiful display,” she added.
Anna Stanley, store manager, for Resort Collections Gift Shop in Elizabethtown, N.C., said their store is known simply as ‘The Gorilla Store.’ “We’ve had from the beginning a gorilla that we have outside the store. At first it was a guy gorilla named Fred. But now it’s Priscilla the gorilla, so we can dress her up more,” Stanley explained. “Every season she gets a new outfit. It’s usually some sort of swimwear, but this year she’s dressed up as a front-line hero wearing scrubs and a mask. She’s well known as our mascot, so most people don’t call us Resort Collections.”
Stanley said they sell T-shirts, swimwear, souvenirs, towels, dresses, cover ups, jewelry, floats, hats, home deçor signs, pillows, picture frames, candle holders, coasters and novelty items.
The store opened in 1985 and Stanley explained their top seller in home deçor are their signs. “Because we’re on a lake we sell a ton of lake signs. People want to decorate their houses or campers with the lake signs.” She said other popular items includes lake items like birds, flamingos, fish and lake-themed hook racks for keys or clothing.

Johan and Loela are the artist-owners of Art Escape and The Escape in Texas. The driftwood sculptures are from a Texas artist, the paintings in the background are chemical art by Johan and Loela.

“We don’t use tablescape-type displays because we’re geared toward knick-knacks. We have so many things and it’s hard to do tablescapes because we don’t have the space. We make nice displays with the room we have in our 3,300-square-foot store,” she added.
“We’ve been open about a month and a half and we’ve been very successful. Since we opened the doors, we’ve been off and running,” Stanley said. “Thankfully it’s been a good thing. A large part of that is we opened the store with 30% off our swimwear. We have a large collection of swimwear and are known for that. That helped us out immensely.”
Loela Barry and Johan Kritzinger are the owners of two stores in Texas, The Escape Fine Crafts & Gifts, a 2,300-square-foot store in Georgetown, and a 3,300-square-foot fine arts gallery called The Art Escape located in Austin. The Escape opened in the historic downtown square of Georgetown in 1996, while The Art Escape opened in December of 2018.

Karin Bennett, owner, the Cornerstone Shop & Gallery, Lake Geneva, Wis. Bennett and her husband Bruce purchased the business in 2007.

“We have represented around 300 artists to date and at any time have about 200 artists’ work in store,” Barry said. “We carry almost exclusively handmade items with 90 percent from the United States. We have a mission to represent artists from every state and the Canadian provinces and have only missed a few. We are artists ourselves and have a passion for helping other artists move their work. We support uplifting projects in developing areas both through marketing the art products from villages as well as through support with art sales of others.”
According to Barry, their motto is Handmade Giving for Purposeful Living. “When our customers realize how their purchases help others in need, their purchasing becomes purposeful and powerful,” Barry said.
The top sellers for Barry and Kritzinger are small ornaments and souvenirs. Barry said, “It’s likely because we are in touristy areas. A close second are three dimensional wall hangings. We see significant preference for art that hangs as opposed to art that stands,” she explained.
“We do very little in decorative signs, but the same concept of size applies. We sell more of smaller signs and magnets. The smaller sizes still seem to be the big magnet when it comes to signs.” She said they sell a variety of items at The Escape including pottery, jewelry, handbags, wallets, watches, knives, clothing and home deçor. They strive for the finest quality products, at fair prices with uncompromising service.
“We do pay a great deal of attention to merchandising, but for practical and space reasons we do not do a lot of tablescapes. We have one table on which we typically would do a tablescape that we rotate with different merchandise,” Barry added.