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Meet Gifts & Dec's Retail Advisors

SANDRA ALLISON

Sandra Allison used her Interior Design training as a freelance window dresser and the creator and director of several museum stores, before opening Allison Wonderland in 1998, in Cape May, New Jersey. The town's Victorian atmosphere, historic homes, and many bed and breakfasts made it the perfect setting for a tea shop inspired by the Mad Hatter's Tea Party in Alice in Wonderland.

TONY FALCONE

In 1984, Tony Falcone and his partner and co-owner, Bill Conkle, left the New York advertising world for the more laid-back ambience of Key West, Florida. They opened their retail venture, Fast Buck Freddie's, soon afterwards, in a 25-by-50-foot space in their house. Success dictated a move to a former five-and-dime store. Today, Fast Buck Freddie's occupies the full 12,000 square feet of that store, and sells high-end gifts, crafts, kitchenware, and apparel.

DANIEL HILL

After studying business communications at the University of Missouri, Daniel Hill worked at Wal-Mart and Famous-Barr while teaching himself floral design. In 1987, he opened Botanicals on the Park, a gift, decorative accessories, and floral shop in St. Louis. In 1998, Hill took on the management of Chadfield Home & Garden in the St. Louis Galleria, in conjunction with Group One Capital investment group, and in October 1999, he opened Botanicals on the Park West. Hill is also part owner of Once Upon a Vine, a cafe and wine bar in the original Botanicals building.

IRV LOSMAN

Irv Losman, owner and manager of Tiara Galleries and Gifts in Rockville, Maryland, has been in retail for most of his life. His parents, Ruth and Pete, opened Tiara Gifts in 1960, and Irv helped out after school. Irv thought he was headed for a communications career, but it took a different form than he'd expected. Irv's retail philosophy is: communicate with the customers. Give them what they want, and tell them why they are right to want it. Entertain as well as sell, and people will come back to see what you've created for them. Tiara Galleries won a 2000 Gifts & Dec Merchandising Achievement Award for promotion.

SUELLEN METKE

Suellen Metke has been a gift retailer since 1986. She turned a problem into an opportunity in 1994, when she lost the lease on her Hoquiam, Washington, store, Memory Lane. She and her husband, Paul, bought and renovated a former Masonic Temple in nearby Aberdeen, to replace it. The Metkes opened the main store, christened the Grand Heron, and the upstairs ballroom, a separate business hosting receptions, in 1994. But their renovation continued until 1999, when the mezzanine was completed. The Grand Heron won a 2000 Gifts & Dec Merchandising Achievement Award for store design.

PATTI RENNER

Patti Renner started her career with ten years in printing, public relations, and journalism. In 1996 she decided to balance her job as an automotive magazine editor with selling wedding invitations. The sideline business was so enjoyable she decided to pursue it full-time. In June 1997 she started Renner's Invitations and Stationery in a 400-square-foot space in Akron, Ohio. Today, she has a 1,400-square-foot space, four part-time employees, and a Web site, and has expanded beyond weddings to include stationery for personal events and other special occasions.

CAREN STURM

Caren Sturm opened her 1,200-square-foot store, The Lagniappe, in West Des Moines, Iowa, in 1989. The store's name, pronounced "lan-yap," is Creole for "a little something extra." And that's what customers get: Her staff slips a small present into each bag whenever they ring up a sale. Customers are touched when the tradition is explained, says Caren, who opened a second location in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in 1997. The Lagniappe won a 1999 Gifts & Dec Merchandising Achievement Award for promotion.

JUDI TEWELL

Judi Tewell and husband Gary have run Los Osos Rexall, in Los Osos, California, for 20 years. In that time, the store has grown from a pharmacy with a few square feet of gifts to a 3,000-square-foot shop that includes 2,200 square feet of gifts. The Tewells won a 1998 Gifts & Dec Merchandising Achievement Award for Community Service: Los Osos Rexall never holds a store promotion without tying it to a community project or fundraiser.

JILL WIEDER

In 1989, Jill Wieder and husband Avery created Chelsea Galleries in Woodmere, Ohio, to cater to the Cleveland-area interior design community. In 1999 they moved to a new location, where reduced space required them to design a store that maximized the use of 1,800 square feet. They also added gifts to their mix of artworks and frames. Chelsea Galleries won a 1999 Gifts & Dec Merchandising Achievement Award for store design.

JIM ZIMMERMAN

In 1985, Jim Zimmerman founded Cottura, a gift store specializing in Italian majolica and tabletop. Jim has a lot of experience to draw on in bringing the human touch to Cottura: Before founding the store, he was personnel director for a bank, taught at the university level, and published a book on personnel. A licensed psychotherapist, he volunteers his services through nonprofit agencies. Cottura has locations in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Newport Beach, CA. The Las Vegas store received a 2000 Gifts & Dec Merchandising Achievement Award for store design.

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