16 January 2010

Guest blog: A shopper’s view of gift stores

Gift & Home Today asked writer Louise Burton: What catches your eye when you are out shopping? What do you expect in the area of customer service? Here is her report:

When Gift & Home Today invited me to write about gift and home décor from a consumer’s point of view, I jumped at the chance. As a longtime resident of the northern suburbs of Chicago and an avid shopper, I have been doing research for years in gift and home décor shops in the area. One of my favorite shops is Perennials, located in Evanston, IL (owned by Patty O'Neill). It is my source for elegant gifts that are not available in other stores. 
Every year, when shopping for holiday gifts for my in-laws, I find myself heading toward Perennials’ green-and-white-striped awning on Evanston’s Central Street. This year, Perennials featured a Victorian Christmas theme in its windows. A tree was decorated with vintage ornaments, including white balls imprinted with Victorian street scenes and a small, antique book titled “Christmas Memories.”

Usually, at least one item in the Perennials windows catches my eye. This time, it was a set of small candles that were towers of mini Christmas fruit. And then I saw a miniature wooden sled, decorated with a vintage scene of children throwing snowballs. The sled was about 8 inches long. I went inside with visions of “rosebud” in my head, and discovered the sled was actually a box! The top of the sled lifted up, revealing a place to put holiday treats.
What a perfect Christmas gift. Unfortunately, I had already bought most of my Christmas presents, and couldn’t think of anyone to buy the wooden sled for. I tend to shop at Perennials for gifts and not for myself. However, I am kicking myself now for having passed it by!

A few minutes after I entered the store, a saleswoman came up and gave me a friendly greeting. About 10 minutes later she asked me, politely, if I needed any help. The salespeople in Perennials are always friendly and helpful, never overbearing. I don’t like pushy salespeople or those who insist on showing you lots of items only slightly related to the item you’re looking for. I am very picky and have my own sense of style. In addition, due to my busy schedule, when I shop I am usually speeding along and don’t want to bring my search to a screeching halt while I listen to a salesperson describe articles I’m not interested in.
While scanning the elegant displays, I was thinking: where is the one really amazing gift? I know it’s here. Every trip to Perennials has yielded a new discovery of an elegant gift item I can’t find anywhere else.
When I first visited Perennials about a dozen years ago, I thought it was just another gift store – lots of flower arrangements, gift soaps and pastel notecards. A fun place to explore with your female friends. But I slowly realized that the buyer truly had exquisite taste. The following items won me over:
1. Robin’s-egg-blue notecards displaying one large script initial in white. Robin’s-egg blue has been synonymous with wealth and good taste ever since Tiffany’s began using it as their signature color. These notecards were just the right shade of robin’s egg blue, with a white border. I still berate myself for not using the cards with initial “B” as thank-you notes after my wedding! To use these would make me feel wealthy and possessed of the most exquisite taste.
2. Stunning, heirloom-quality photo albums and frames. Fortunately, I came to Perennials when I was shopping for wedding photo albums. I had looked everywhere for the perfect albums and frames: Marshall Field’s, The Yellow Bird, The Hallmark Store, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and online at sendaframe.com. At Perennials, I found a selection of picture frames covered in ivory jacquard fabric, and photo albums in ivory silk shantung with a raised diamond pattern. (see picture of the ones I chose!) I love diamond patterns: on quilted jackets, Chanel purses, you name it! These albums and frames had just the look of understated elegance I was searching for.

Perennials currently has other beautiful wedding photo frames: a selection of elaborate, gilt-covered frames that look like fine antiques but aren’t (see picture). I have seen similar frames for prohibitively high prices at antique shows.
3. A collection of fine gift soaps and lotions, beautifully displayed. I have found many hostess gifts on these shelves: lavender-scented soaps from the Provencal region of France, exquisite seashell-shaped soaps, and a whole shelf of LaSource products in elegant turquoise packaging, featuring the clean scent of ocean breezes.
Perennials is the place to buy gifts when you want to make a good impression. This is why I often refer to it as the “mother-in-law store.” Their gift-wrapping service is as elegant as their gift items. You can choose between red toile wrapping paper or a blue floral pattern, tied with ribbon and accented with a single rosebud. For important gifts, you can’t go wrong by shopping at Perennials

Louise Burton is a writer, editor and avid shopper who lives in Wilmette, IL. She currently writes web content and designs websites, uniting her interests in both writing and design. She has written for a host of e-newsletters about marketing trends and techniques. One of her passions is good design, wherever it can be found: on the Web, at art fairs, or in home furnishings. She is constantly on the lookout for the finest products available in gift and home décor.


  1. "Every year, when shopping for holiday gifts for my in-laws" This comment by Louise Burton is one of the most problematic customer attitudes that independent retailers face today. It's nice to be thought of when people need an exquisite gift for hard-to-please people; however, it would be nicer to be thought of more than once a year.
    A store across from us closed three years ago, and people still stop by looking for them. "They were my favorite store!" is the comment we hear; but if you only visit your favorite store once every three years, the store will not stay in business.
    While it is true that we exist for the pleasing of our customers, we cannot persist without clientele that shop us frequently.

  2. Please take a look at The 3/50 Project website www.the350project.net A national, yet grassroots organization that supports storeowners to help educate the end customer about taking responsibility about where they shop, helping them to be conscientious of their hometown community businesses. Pick 3 or more favorite stores, Spend $50.00 and help save independent local businesses, also keeping tax $$ in your community.


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