Where the shop owners shop

Downtown merchants share their ideas for last-minute gifts

Sierra Stationers. “I just think [a world globe is] very timely—a great family gift.” —Debbie LaPlant.

Sierra Stationers. “I just think [a world globe is] very timely—a great family gift.” —Debbie LaPlant.

Ever wondered where storeowners shop for holiday gifts? Where does the owner of a women’s clothing store, for example, shop for the men on her list? Where would someone who owns a kitchen supply shop buy presents for a toddler grandchild?

Figuring that shop owners are smart shoppers, we decided to ask a number of downtown merchants where they would be doing their shopping this season, besides their own store, of course. Here’s what we found out.

The whole world in your hands
BeachIt! owner Debbie LaPlant, who has long been a leader in the Downtown Chico Business Association, doesn’t have to go far to finish off her holiday gift list. Right next door, at 228 Broadway, is Sierra Stationers, where several decidedly non-office-exclusive gifts can be had.

LaPlant in particular recommends a world globe. “I just think it’s very timely—a great family gift,” she explained. “We’re all thinking about the world around us, and we’re all thinking about world peace.”

The globes range in size and also in price: from $19.95 to $149.95 for the models kept in stock. But owner Jeff Dow said Sierra Stationers can special-order one that’s $4,999—"if you want a globe with a bar inside.”

Wear it well
Jerry Brayton, the owner of Brayton’s Hallmark at 241 Main Street, knows the way to a woman’s heart: clothes from Natural Instincts.

“Natural Instincts has beautiful clothes,” said Brayton, who has found favor with his own wife with gifts of clothing imported from Bali. “It’s kind of different, unique and special,” he said. “Women like that stuff because it’s kind of a solid color, so it goes with everything. It’s very classy.

“I already have something on layaway there that I spotted some time ago,” Brayton hinted.

Heady gift
For Jeff Dow, who runs Sierra Stationers, “Christmas is not about the dollar amount spent; it’s about the uniqueness of the gift.” That’s why he’s been known to bestow upon his family presents of hollowed-out hand grenade “paperweights” from Mountain Sports, at 176 E. Third St., and other such quirky conversation pieces.

This year, his list includes “the Clint Eastwood Good, Bad and Ugly-type hat” from Iron Mountain Leather at Ninth and Broadway.

“The smell of the leather gives you that warm, cozy, Christmas-like feeling,” Dow explained.

In that spirit, Dow revealed, “I do 100 percent of my Christmas shopping downtown.” Parking is easier than at the mall, and “the value of the product downtown is much better for my money spent rather than at south Chico big-box retailers.

“Who wants to by a shirt that 50 other people bought this year, anyway?” he pondered.

East meets West
Harold Park, owner of the venerable House of Rice, an eclectic and colorful store full of Oriental imports and gift items—from Buddhas and sandals to cooking accessories—is a downtown owner who likes to spend his own money in the downtown community of businesses on a regular basis.

Among the stores that he usually visits this time of year for Christmas shopping: Corwin & Son Clothier at 130 West Third St., Tower Records at 215 Main, the HangUps framing shop at 239 Broadway and, last but not least, Birkenstocks Footprints at 333 Broadway—the perfect place for footwear gifts, he says.

“That’s where I buy my shoes.”

But Park can’t mention downtown shopping without acknowledging all the great places to eat downtown, the topic of food bringing a cheerful glow to his face.

“Yes, I eat down here all the time; that is a good gift. Next door, Café Malvina, the Chada Thai restaurant, that spaghetti place Gina Marie’s, and the Rawbar.”

As for his own store, Park says he is noticing that Christmas shoppers have started quite early this year.

“People have been in here continuously looking at price-tags. You know, just looking and checking things out; not buying anything big yet. But we do seem to be doing better than this time last year, so I think it will be a good holiday.”

Ice cream, you scream
It’s a fact: Most bike shop owners are generally healthy and happy people who have based their work lives on a fun outdoor activity they truly love. This certainly seems the case with the always-friendly owner of Pullins Cyclery, Steve O’Bryan, who says he does quite a bit of his personal holiday shopping downtown.

“Well, every year about this time I visit Shubert’s for the stocking stuffers,” O’Bryan says. “They have the quality stuff, but there are actually several places. I could go on and on about the downtown.”

O’Bryan proceeds to mention some of his favorites: Collier Hardware at Second Street and Broadway ("the best kitchen store in town” for all kinds of kitchen-related items); Mountain Sports at 176 East Third St. ("I always get someone a pair of those Smartwool socks, those are killer"); Bird in Hand at 320 Broadway; Sound Source at 544 Broadway ("My kids play music, so I always stop there"); and Iron Mountain at 804 Broadway ("Great wallets, leather jackets and if you ride a Harley, you’re going to need chaps").

A good place to shop for that special someone, O’Bryan notes, is Olde Gold, located in the Garden Walk.

“My wife has never taken anything back from there—complete satisfaction guaranteed,” O’Bryan laughs. “The owner makes new jewelry as well as carries some estate items. A while back, I spotted a gorgeous 1920s ring with a 23-diamond setting. … It took me a year to pay for it, but I slowly did before our anniversary. … Now my wife just loves that thing.”

In addition to quality goods, O’Bryan points to another well-known reason why there are so many noteworthy places downtown for shoppers to spend their dollars: “They’re all run by great people.”

Hello, kitties
If she’s looking for a children’s gift, Kat’s Meow manager Sarah Boales said she’d look no further than her kids’ boutique in the Garden Walk Mall. “That’s a given,” she said with a laugh. “We have everything for kids here.”

But if she’s looking for a special something for a female friend or relative, Boales and Kat’s Meow owner Jill Mardesich-Stephens said they always head straight across the hall to Montana Blues or across the street to Zucchini & Vine at Second and Main streets. Montana Blues is a relative newcomer to the downtown business scene, but Zucchini & Vine has been located on its busy downtown corner for years.

Boales and Mardesich-Stephens said both stores are great for finding unique gifts for people like their mothers.

“It depends on the person, of course,” Boales said. “But if I’m shopping for my mom, that’s where I’d go. There’s lots of great stuff.”

Ooo la oui!
The always-classy, not to mention beautiful, Debra Cannon, co-owner with her daughter Colleen of Lulu’s Fashion Lounge, said she’s had her eye on some of the fine merchandise sitting inside The Blue Frog at 138 West Third Street, next to Corwin & Son Clothier. Cannon said included in her favorites of the “shabby-chic antique” merchandise located in the store, besides the new re-release of Bauer Pottery, are the French dishtowels that are made to look vintage.

Running at $15 each, either the French linen or champagne style would make the “perfect hostess gift,” Cannon said. The store is a fairly new addition to the downtown—been there since May—and is owned and operated by Colleen Uhyrek.

Shoes, scarves and PJs
The new owner and manager of Chico Paper Co., located at 345 Broadway, Jana Donoho-Strong, says she does a lot of her shopping in downtown Chico. For last-minute holiday gift ideas, Donoho-Strong suggests gift certificates for shoes from Birkenstock Footprints, at 333 Broadway. She also suggests the warm scarves currently on sale over at Cottonparty, 337 Broadway.

Warmth and comfort seem to form a theme with Donoho-Strong’s gift suggestions this year, for she also cites the many varieties of footwear, pajamas, sweaters and much more over at Mountain Sports, 176 East Third St.

(Comic) books
When posed with the last-minute holiday gift dilemma, Bat Comics (recently moved to 127 Main St.) owner and manager Trent Walsh immediately suggests The Bookstore, across the street at 118 Main St. “They have such a wide variety of things, I always find something for somebody,” Walsh states.

When asked if he has a specific recipient in mind this year, he says, “I have an uncle that’s horribly into the spy/adventure novel stuff. So for this year, I’ll have to swing over there and try to find a spy book that he hasn’t already read.” Walsh also suggests Bird in Hand, 320 Broadway, as a place offering varied gift ideas. If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, Walsh recommends the store highly.

To cap things off, he cites Tower New & Used, at 215 Main St. “For music and stuff like that,” Walsh says, the establishment is sure to have something for everybody.

Natural woman
When she’s not tending to the decidedly artistic wares in her shop, you’ll find Vagabond Rose owner Marilyn Souza looking for outdoorsy gifts for her sons at two downtown shops.

Souza said she’s always been able to find good last-minute gifts at both Chico Sports LTD, 240 Main, and Mountain Sports, 176 East Third St. Her sons are outdoor enthusiasts, she said, as are many of the “lots of men” in her extended family.

“I have a lot of men to buy for in the family,” she said. “So those are always good places to buy stuff like camping gear, shirts, socks, gloves and ski goggles. There’s always something I find.”

Souza said she used to find gifts—especially last-minute gifts—for everyone on her list at the now-defunct Tower Book store downtown but has “branched out” since it closed.

“That was a great store,” she said. “It was so easy to find something for absolutely everyone there, and it was usually the only place left open when I got out of my own shop in the evening.”

Make a candy connection
One might think that Cecilia Richardson, owner of the Garden Walk Mall’s colorful clothing and import-gift store African Connection, would celebrate Kwanzaa around this time of year—but such is not the case.

“Growing up, I never celebrated Kwanzaa,” she says. “It’s basically an African-American festival held around this time of year, but my feeling is that one should approach every day with the same spirit of giving. Like Christianity, one should not wait until Sunday every week to practice—it should be a part of who you are.”

That said, Richardson admits that this time of year she does some extra holiday shopping for the children in her life. She points to a fellow merchant, Brambley Cottage, located near her store in the Garden Walk, that carries assorted English country cottage items, including the finest selection of European chocolates.

“The different-sized boxes of chocolate are wonderful,” says Richardson. “They would make good stocking stuffers.”

Among the types of chocolate the store carries: top imported English brands like Cadbury and Quality Street, with Cadbury stocking gift sets and the always popular crunchy bar and chocolate biscuits (that’s cookies to you and me).

“People love the European brands of chocolate because they do not contain paraffin wax,” says owner Anne Ennis. “The English candy is much creamier—and the artificial preservative of wax doesn’t kill the flavor like the popular American brands.”

Take the cake
Jovial Lynn Brown, Tower New & Used manager, is quick (and more than a bit humorous) with his answers to last-minute-shopping questions: “You know, I think of all those poor friends of mine that have problems with their shoes,” he says, wryly. Brown suggests a gift certificate from Preston’s Shoe Repair, at 173 East Third St. Other suggested gift stops include Sports Ltd. at 240 Main St.

“Because I’m a bike rider, and I have friends who are bike riders,” Brown explains. “They have a lot of [bicycling] accessories, and that’s usually what I buy over there. Or have ’em a tune-up done, that’s pretty cheap, y’know.”

Brown’s unique suggestion, however, is the Upper Crust Bakery, at 130 Main St. "They have some beautiful cakes, and those are always welcome." A quick trip over to the Upper Crust verified Brown’s suggestion: The baked marvels were wondrous to behold and promised delightful satiation for even the most resilient sweet tooth.