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2004-08-10 - 10:44 a.m.

A New Adventure

Janis Buckham managed Centering after Ed and I married…and did such a good job of it that I was hardly needed anymore. She was expert at buying earrings and greeting cards, which were the mainstays of the business, although I continued to bring in interesting gift items from around the world and now and then a few pieces of ethnic clothing. She had a way of displaying the jewelry and gifts in a most artistic way. Sometimes, we almost hated to sell something from her display work of art.

Our main competitor, a much larger gift shop, Discoveries, was known far and wide for its gift-wrapping as well as a large selection of gift items. At Centering, we started with handcrafted items, which we packaged in brown paper bags with raffia and stickers with our logo. My son-in-law Mike made up a delightful little ditty he suggested we chant to our customers: “We don’t wrap; we don’t box. Discoveries does – they’re down two blocks.” Somehow he had not convinced me this would be an effective marketing tool, so we eventually found a way to box and wrap in our small store. I became aware for the second time how much I could accomplish in my sleep: I struggled with where and how to store and arrange boxes and bags behind the counter, and woke up having solved the problem with a large cupboard we had taken down in our home darkroom. By tacking on some dividers behind it for the various bag heights, and placing wrapping paper rolls on top and boxes underneath, we solved the problem. We now could box and wrap for Davis customers, who had been thoroughly spoiled by Discoveries!

Customers kept urging me to bring in more clothing; a new employee, who had been a manager at a clothing store whose owner had died, volunteered to help me learn how to approach the clothing market through the fashion industry shows in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Until this time, the clothing I had purchased had been through the Gift Shows, primarily in San Francisco. This opened a whole new horizon!

I rented a space in a building nearing completion, along with a town-house apartment across the parking lot from where the store would be to house the “back room” and office for the store. Delberta Hurley, who had helped me decorate my new house, again came to my rescue, helping me to design the interior furnishings and props for the store.

We made trips to San Francisco, looking for some antiques, but eventually found everything we would need at a wholesale antique import store in Benicia that specialized in items suitable for store fixtures. Since I was at that time planning to feature ethnic clothing, I wanted oak fixtures rather than the usual chrome racks. We found some great props, including a 100 drawer antique apothecary, glass-fronted cases, and some totally useless but interesting items, such as the English rocking horse, a French birdcage, and a Thonet children’s bentwood double seated table – the makings of an interesting store.

For the unusual one-of-a-kind garments, we designed a canopy-covered rack against a wall, covered with Afghani embroidered rugs and tassels. Tiered and three-way racks of oak that could be arranged in different configurations with clothing at varying levels created an interesting store.

Market was an exciting, heady, exhausting, and somewhat frightening experience. That first market caused many a sleepless night. Would the merchandise come in all at once? Or would it come in staggered as I had hoped? Would the sweaters I ordered from one vendor come in to coincide with the arrival of the skirts and pants from another …or would a style be sold out or never arrive? Was I committing too much of my budget to one category over another. Would my customers like what I had ordered?

...to be continued

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