California gift shop owner finding sales tougher in recession

Amid an entrenched recession and coming off one of the worst holiday shopping seasons in years, local gift shop operators say the nature of their business is shifting.

"The whole game has changed," said Bobbi Gould, owner of Collected Works at 4524 Freeport Blvd. in Sacramento. "Not only for us, but for our customers and vendors."

Gould said signs of tough times are everywhere.

Customers are more discriminating and cost-conscious. Vendors who once drove a hard bargain are more willing to deal on price and less hard-line on the minimum number of items required per order.

"There's more give and take," Gould noted.

Gould has likewise become a more careful buyer. Normally in mid-February, she said, about 75 percent of her store's upcoming stock is contractually obligated. This year, it's about 10 percent.

At the San Francisco International Gift Fair, which wrapped up its four-day run Feb. 10 at the Moscone Center, Gould guessed that the number of vendors on-site was down by at least a third this year, "and it was very hard to find anything new."

Gould has responded by stocking "a little bit of everything … and we try to package items together that make very unique gifts." The store's packaging theme runs the gamut – from tea service to consumables.

"We understand it's very difficult for a lot of people right now," she said. "If we have a bad month, we just have to live with it. I can't say enough about our customers who have been so loyal and supportive."

Joann Mizutani, who has operated Joann's Elegant Gifts at 1019 L St. across from the Capitol for 29 years, feels the same way. She said it became obvious during the recent holiday shopping season that "some of my longtime customers were coming in to buy something, to show support for me.

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