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Shopping with a Smile

Author: Juliet Porton
November, 2014 Issue

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When you’re looking for a really unique gift, check out these really unique shops.

 
Most of us run off to chain stores at least some of the time, trying to check off all our shopping boxes at once. But be honest: Can you really say you find it enjoyable? Does filling your cart with generic gifts ever bring back good memories, introduce you to new interests or induce a belly laugh? It can if you head to one of these local variety shops, where the secret to success is sometimes a sense of humor.
 

Heebe Jeebe General Store

Heebe Jeebe General Store has been entertaining visitors to Petaluma’s downtown for close to 13 years, earning a reputation for carrying unusual merchandise that’s high quality but affordable. Drew Washer opened the store in 2001 with plans to offer a little something for everybody, including the hard-to-shop-for men in our lives.
 
Her housewares section offers everything from the traditional (holiday serving pieces) to the funny (Mug Shot shot glasses, with famous criminals pictured on each) to the bizarre (zombie-shaped cookie cutters, anyone?). The children’s section, partially housed on the shelf walls of a six-foot-tall volcano, features dainty pink parasols, Fisher Price’s classic chatter telephones and record players, and games for all ages. Current best sellers include vintage-inspired, California-themed t-shirts and housewares, items from the store’s large selection of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) folk art collection and anything unicorn- or “My Little Pony”-themed.
 
“It’s all about what I gravitate toward and what interests me personally,” says Washer. “If I had to think about how to fill this or that category, I’d drive myself crazy. That’s not how I work.”
 
The store also has its own community-based art gallery, the Back House Gallery, which, Washer says, has been a consistent draw for locals and visitors alike. The store promotes smaller-scale shows by a variety of local artists, anyone from established artists working at Pixar or ILM to a recent show of intricate and colorful works by 18-year-old Petaluma native Maxfield Bala.
 
Another part of Heebe Jeebe’s staying power has been its resident pair of downtown landmarks: a popular black-and-white photo booth inside and Champion, the mechanical horse that sits outside, luring quarter-carrying children and camera-toting tourists.
 
“Champion is like a part of the family,” says Washer. “He has his own Facebook page. We even sell T-shirts that say, “I rode the Champion at Heebe Jeebe.”
 

Revolution 9

If you haven’t shopped in downtown Fairfax for a while, prepare to be pleasantly surprised. A wonderful collection of shops and restaurants have been setting down roots in the last few years, infusing new life while helping to retain the offbeat charm for which the city is known. 
 
One standout is Revolution 9, which opened in 2007 and has become a popular gift shop and community meeting spot, especially among teens and young adults. Walking in, the first thing you’ll notice is that the shop feels more like a bohemian friend’s living room, where things just happen to be for sale. One corner is taken up by a gigantic couch, beckoning you to sit down and get comfortable while watching the large television set running movies from directors like Tim Burton and Hayao Miyazaki.
 
Fans of Miyazaki—or any Japanese anime—will feel right at home here, as will those who want to geek out on “Dr. Who,” “Adventure Time” or “Star Wars” merchandise, such as posters, magnets and figurines. If the silly candies, soaps and stuffed animals aren’t your thing, there are also journals, clever T-shirts by Threadless (a Chicago company that supports emerging artists’ work), distinctive jewelry by Waitsfield, Vermont’s Baked Beads and San Diego’s Green Tree Jewelry, among others.
 
Revolution 9 is a fun place to shop, but it clearly aims to be more than that. It also defines itself as a community center and art gallery, with an event list that includes art classes and birthday parties in its attached workshop, game nights and other events that foster community and creativity. That commitment to youth and the arts may put an even bigger smile on your face.
 

Sunnyside Cottage

With its bright, yellow walls, vintage linens and friendly faces, Sunnyside Cottage in Santa Rosa feels a lot like a welcoming kitchen on a sunny morning. Inside, visitors are greeted not with toast and jam, but with a wide selection of gift items ranging from classic toys to jewelry to retro home decor.
 
“I want people to feel happy while they shop here and for it to bring back good memories for them,” says Debbie McCormick, who fulfilled a dream when she opened the shop in 2004.
 
Originally housed in a smaller location on the end of Santa Rosa’s Fourth Street (next door to Hank’s Creekside Café), the shop has been in Santa Rosa’s Montecito Shopping Center since 2007, benefitting from the foot traffic courtesy of a busy Oliver’s Market next door. The front half of Sunnyside Cottage, presided over by grinning Kit-Cat clocks, is layered in vintage-inspired housewares and gifts both thoughtful and silly.
 
Bottles of Lollia and Tokyo Milk bath products line shelves near stacks of popular cookbooks, gag gifts and a large assortment of oilcloth cut to order. The middle of the store is taken up by a large jewelry case, baby items and party supplies, including ribbon by the yard, with a busy toy section in back. Recently, popular children’s items have included English manufacturer Arklu’s tiny Lottie dolls, Iwako pencil top erasers from Japan and perennially popular gag gifts like Whoopee Cushions and fake mustaches.
 
McCormick says that, to thrive in this difficult business, it’s been important to find ways to make shopping as hassle-free as possible, such as offering free gift-wrapping and an easy-to-use customer reward program. She also takes time to get to know her customers and what they’re looking for. Toys have grown to comprise the store’s biggest sales category, as the community began to depend on the fact that they could always find the perfect birthday present for children of any age.
 

Tiddle E. Winks

If Sunnyside Cottage is like stepping into a cozy kitchen, a visit to Tiddle E. Winks Vintage Five and Dime in Sonoma is like heading to the malt shop after school. Just steps from the famous town square, Tiddle E. Winks was opened in 2005 by Heidi Geffen, who envisioned a carefree place with lots of collectibles from the 1940s and ’50s.
 
Upon opening, however, she found that people would admire those antique pieces, but leave with the old-time candies she stocked. As requests grew for classic candies, she began stocking more varieties, both at her front counter and in bins around the store, as well as more of the high-quality reproductions of vintage pieces that are in such high demand.
 
“I joke that I pay my rent one Tootsie Roll at a time,” laughs Geffen.
 
Tiddle E. Winks is far from just a candy store, though. It carries quality reproductions of vintage linens, lunch boxes and home decor, along with one-of-a-kind local art, Bay Area souvenirs and quirky children’s games. Nostalgic sports fans will appreciate its huge selection of vintage-style team pennants, pins and mascot drink coasters. Its sizable online store has also made it easier to convert out-of-town visitors into repeat customers.
 
Geffen says that, even though she’s continued to fine-tune her inventory over the years, the most important thing has been to stay true to the store’s vintage vibe. This means that even if buyers tell her something is a big seller right now, she’ll say no if it doesn’t fit into that vision. She pays attention to every detail within the shop, wanting the sights, sounds and smellscustomers experience to bring them back to a simpler, easier time.
 
“We just want you to be happy,” says Geffen. “That’s my business plan.”
 

Mr. Moon’s

Long before the well-heeled masses descended on Healdsburg’s historic plaza, there was Mr. Moon’s. A staple of the local shopping scene for more than 23 years, Mr. Moon’s is owned by the mother-daughter team of Patty and Jessica Timmsen. The first Mr. Moon’s was open for 32 years in Calistoga, but the two decided to close it last year to focus on the Healdsburg store and Jessica’s young family, as well as their emerging wholesale business, Prettybird Paper Goods, which focuses on original art by Patty and Levi Miller, Jessica’s husband.
 
Just passing by Mr. Moon’s for the first time, you may be tempted to think that only the serious shopper need enter. The window displays hint at boutique women’s clothing, hats and swoon-worthy purses. Inside, you’ll find a wall case filled with artisan jewelry, some locally made, along with racks of Healdsburg T-shirts for the tourists (and proud locals).
 
But look a little closer, and you’ll start to see the playful side. Lavender-scented soaps share a spot with baseball-themed soaps for kids. If you’re looking for a baby gift, you can pick up beautiful organic cotton dolls or a handful of quirky wind-up toys. A wall of gag toiletries, with bacon bandages and breath sprays promising an instant Irish accent, offers quick stocking stuffers, all while you stock up on greeting cards from the wide and humorous collection.
 
Jessica Timmsen says Mr. Moon’s tries to offer a rotating inventory of eclectic merchandise, in a wide range of styles and price points, so that everyone can find what they’re looking for. If you come in shopping for your sister, you can walk out with the perfect gift, whether she’s outdoorsy, artsy or a real girlie-girl, and whether you wanted to spend $10 or $100. During the holiday season, you’ll also find expanded toy and gift sections, along with unique ornaments and other decorations.
 
For a store that’s front-and-center in such a popular tourist area, you might think it’s easy to bring business in the door. Timmsen, however, believes it’s been getting to know local customers and consistently meeting their expectations that’s been most critical to their longevity.
 
“We definitely appreciate the business tourism brings, but we wouldn’t still be here without the support of our local community,” she says.
 

Ready for Gift Ideas?

Catstudio dishtowels, glassware and hand-embroidered pillows
 
This Petaluma-based company’s Geography Collection is the perfect fit for the traveler in your life. Items feature exclusive art showing pictorial maps of U.S. states, major cities and regions, as well as many other countries and world capitals. Stitching a single Napa Valley pillow, which features images such as the Wine Train, Culinary Institute of America and several wineries, takes one week. (Select items at Tiddle E. Winks and Sunnyside Cottage)
 
Squishables
These roly-poly, stuffed creatures will appeal to children of all ages and plenty of teenagers, and are available in sizes from micro to massive. Sure, you can buy Squishables that look like friendly elephants or foxes, but why would you when you could get them in the shapes of werewolves, yetis and buttered pancakes instead? (Select items at Revolution 9)
 
Charles Viancin silicone food storage suction lids
You’ll want to buy a second one of these for yourself. Rather than wasting yards of plastic wrap and aluminum foil on your leftovers each year, these reuseable lids promise to keep food fresher and our landfills a bit emptier. The lids, in the shapes of sunflowers, lily pads and other flora, come in various sizes and form a seal on any smooth-rimmed container, including glass, plastic and metal. They’re even BPA-free and heat safe to 425 degrees. (Select items at Sunnyside Cottage)
 
SF Mercantile’s “I Love You California” mugs, T-shirts and tote bags
Based in San Francisco, SF Mercantile has set out to produce Bay Area gifts and souvenirs that you can actually be proud to give. The California Bear Collection, featuring our native giant giving, well...a bear hug to the whole state, was inspired by the 1913 cover to sheet music for California’s state song. (Select items at Heebe Jeebe's)
 

More Shopping Spots

Sausalito Ferry Company Gift Store
688 Bridgeway, Sausalito
(415) 332-9590
Occupying prime real estate on the waterfront in Sausalito, this pint-sized shop will offer you hundreds of reasons to laugh. It carries a huge selection of Funko Mystery Minis, collectible figurines of many of today’s most popular movies and TV shows, including “Game of Thrones,” “The Big Bang Theory” and many Disney movies. You can also pick up some foie gras-flavored lip gloss for your foodie friend, a Queen Elizabeth tea infuser for your mother-in-law or one of the many Japanese waving cat figurines for your daughter. Be warned, some items are definitely rated PG-13, at best. You’re pretty safe with the cats.
 
Fairfax Variety
61 Broadway Blvd, Fairfax
(415) 457-2580
Get ready to walk into a general store that’s part of another era, complete with the creaky wooden floor. Children will find kites, Lego kits and art supplies, while giftable kitchen goods, books and clothing will keep the adults busy. Tucked in between, you can still find what you need in a pinch, like sewing needles, shoelaces and greeting cards.
 
Disguise the Limit
129 4th Street, Santa Rosa
(707) 575-1477
Locals know this is the place to go for Halloween costumes and accessories, but may not be aware of the store’s great collection of gift items, now easier to appreciate in its new Fourth Street location. You can spend hours reading all the hilarious bumper stickers and magnets, or pick up a trendy Eurosport bag, San Diego Hats sun gear or some retro sunglasses. The jewelry cases stock delicate, dangly earrings and chattering false teeth—you choose.
 
Guerneville 5 & 10
16252 Main St., Guerneville
(707) 869-3404
This Russian River institution has been meeting the needs of its community since 1949, but now it’s focusing on bringing the fun of the Five and Dime to a new generation of day trippers and locals alike. When the weather’s warm, you can come in for sunscreen and inner tubes (inflated in-store for free), and leave with a kite, some must-have candy, a snazzy bike horn and enough art supplies to keep the kids busy on the car ride home. Year round, stop in for classic toys, knitting supplies and novelty items galore.


 

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