It was Small Business Saturday last weekend, kicking off a season to celebrate South Pasadena’s retail diversity.
It was also time for me to go around town and see how local merchants viewed where they’ve been over the past year, and what they expect during the holiday season.
I want this week’s column to begin offering readers unique places to shop and gifts that might not be on their holiday shopping lists.
This is certainly not a comprehensive list and my apologies to those merchants I didn’t get to talk with, but I’d recommend you spend time walking around town on your own.
Many merchants I talked to all agreed it was generally an up and down year for sales, and that Amazon continues to eat into their profits.
“People have just gotten used to shopping at 2 a.m. in their pajamas,” admitted Laurie Wheeler, president of the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce. “And the economy has seemed hard and people aren’t spending to buy extra stuff. People are taking out rather than dining in. Everyone’s feeling the pinch of higher prices.”
“That’s why it’s more critical than ever to get people to shop local. It may be that sales are going to be smaller because people are worried about the economy. But if it seems smaller in the stores, maybe it will be bigger in local stores.”
And, if it seems like stores skipped Thanksgiving, that’s how it seemed to many owners who are now putting up holiday decorations in October. Black Friday may as well be the day after Halloween.
Christopher Meeske, owner of Mission Wines at 114 Mission St., said that his business has been slower than usual this year, and he’s hoping for a brighter holiday season.
“We’ve had to be creative and think outside the box,” Meeske said. “There’s just more competition out there now.”
Sue Stranger, owner of Adobe Design, at 1506 Mission St , said she started setting up for the holidays earlier this year.
“People have been shopping for the holidays for several weeks already,” said Stranger, who said that her business has been better this year than last year. “It’s Christmas in October.”
If there is any store in town that is having to make up for lost time, it’s Dave Plenn’s The Dinosaur Farm, at 1510 Mission St. The toy store was closed because of water damage for nearly four months from May to August.
“December is always the month that pulls me out of the hole, and maybe a busy season will make the hole I’m in a little shallower this year,” Plenn said.
“I think we’re going to have a good Christmas,” Plenn said. “People have decided to come to the store. I have people coming in and saying, ‘Thank God, you are up and running.’”
Remember, these are just some of the things that either I saw that might be unique for a holiday gift list, or recommended by a clerk or store owner. I also wasn’t able to get to every retailer in town, and I’ll have more stores to feature in my next column. So, let’s get running, and what better place to start than with …
Dinosaur Farm: Plenn said that the “hot’ item this year appears to be something called “Kawaii Slime,” which he said has already proved to be “huge.” “It kind of looks like a dessert,” he said.
Other good sellers, Plenn predicted, should be remote-controlled cars; Calico Critters; and anything in the Dinosaur Room. There’s also a bargain table for items which needed only to have their plastic covers wiped clean.
Adobe Design’s (1506 Mission St.) owner Sue Stranger said that people are loving Dutch cookies and mugs. I was attracted to the handmade Christmas ornaments; handmade toys and Peruvian children’s sweaters; pocket saints; cashmere scarves for men and women; items made out of tin; Hanukkah menorahs and ornaments; eco-friendly art projects with crayons made of beeswax; sidewalk chalk. The store is also creating personal gift baskets for customers who want to create their own presents from food and other items for sale.
Diane Staples, the owner of Retreat Lifestyle (950 Mission St.), said that business has been so good that she opened a second location in Pasadena on Holly Street. The store, at the western end of Mission’s merchant strip, has been in South Pasadena for seven years.
Staples boasts that almost everything at the store is handmade and carries gifts from several local artisans.
They have handmade Hanukkah and Christmas cards with “Greetings from South Pasadena”; ceramics from a Vermont artisan; several gifts with the city logo including trays and signs; hand-designed garden decorations; and jewelry.
Marz (1512 Mission St.): I found gifts for the entire year, not just for the holidays. There is a baby section with toys and blankets, and cards with clever sayings; and a book section.
For Christmas, Marz sells handmade small and large painted angels with expressive faces from the Philippines; beautiful pins embroidered with beads which bring color to flowers, insects and birds as well as designs in the style of Mexican artist Frieda Kahlo. There are paper cut black silhouettes of plants and animals and lots of ornaments of all styles. I also liked the wreathes and ornaments.
THE GIFT OF MUSIC
For the music lover in your life, or the person you know who wants to play an instrument, why not give them a gift certificate at the South Pasadena Arts and Music Academy? The academy (803 Fremont Ave.) has students from age 3 into their 80s, and director Rebecca Ward promised me that all her teachers are professionally trained and that everyone has at least a bachelor’s degree in music.
The academy offers lessons in string instruments, piano, vocal, flute, drums, guitar and electric bass among other instruments.
How it works is that you can get four 30-minute private lessons for $182, and then if you continue the annual fee of $40 is waived. There are also certificates for ensemble keyboard labs. You can get a certificate for four weeks of group piano lessons for $135 and if you continue the annual fee is waived. There are five people in each class.
For more information call the front desk at (602) 808-4031, or go to artsmusicacademy.com.
There are other music studios in town, and I’d recommend that their lessons might also be good Christmas presents.
THE GIFT OF FLOWERS
Are you looking for a romantic gift? Why not try the gift of flowers. Moss And Meadow (1000 Fremont Ave., Unit 110, behind the Fiore Market Café) can make a dried flower wreath using fresh greens starting at $50. Arielle, the shop’s owner, who asked that her last name not be used, said that she is also offering holiday centerpieces. I saw the centerpieces she created for Mother’s Day, and each one is a work of art. The shop is open 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Call (626) 460-6111 or go to mossandmeadowdesign.com. Moss and Meadow will be closed Dec. 22-Jan. 9.
If you’d rather have your flowers blooming in the front or backyard, instead of in your living room, try Barristers Nursery (921 Meridian St.). A planted bush or tree will be the gift that keeps on giving, and it’s a perfect idea for the person in your life who has a “green thumb.” Ask for Stella. And also ask her to show you some of the nonplant holiday gifts she has displayed inside her workshop.
Well, I’ve shopped until I dropped.
But, I’ve got more ideas for gifts and more places in South Pasadena for you to find them in my column next week.
Meanwhile, happy shopping and think local when you are making your gift list.
First published in the December 1 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.