Retailer assembles gift baskets with inexpensive items
Donna Freeman had always dreamed of opening a high-end boutique. But because of the stale economy, she opened an upscale dollar store instead.
Village Dollar Shoppe at 803 Meeting St. in West Columbia opened in July.
Freeman specializes in low-cost gift baskets that she puts together with items from throughout her store - which range in price from less than $1 to $5.
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The baskets usually range in price from $11 to $15, including the basket and all the trimmings. Freeman puts them together for free.
She makes baskets for a variety of occasions, including birthdays, weddings, holidays, housewarming gifts, thank-yous and I'm sorrys.
They come with gourmet lemon cookies, coffee mugs, candles and picture frames or whatever the customer chooses.
"I wanted to find a niche," said Freeman, a former state government lobbyist. A friend gave her the idea by going to a dollar store and making up her own gift basket.
"I said, 'I can do that. I've been doing that forever,'" Freeman said.
The store also separates itself from the chain retailers by location. Freeman's research found that most dollar stores are located in a strip shopping mall with a grocery store. But she wanted to do something different.
So she found a 1960s brick building in West Columbia's shopping district with a large display window out front. It housed a florist for 40 years.
"It looks like an old English shop on the facade," she said.
In addition to baskets, Freeman sells jewelry for $1 a piece and greeting cards, two for $1. She also has an array of pet and baby supplies, limited groceries, glassware, housewares, tools, cleaning supplies and even Halloween costumes.
Freeman hopes as the holidays near, her business will grow as people look for deals in a strained economy. She wants to provide baskets to churches and hotels on a regular basis and cleaning supplies to small businesses. She already has one hotel on board that uses her baskets as welcome gifts and wedding gifts for patrons.
"Dollar stores need a lot of customers to survive because the mark-up is not as much," Freeman said.
Her dream of a high-end boutique is not dead. But she is happy to operate a neighborhood store that gives people what they need during hard economic times.
"This is good for now," she said. "It's a different twist on a dollar shop."
Sandhill's youth policy starts tonight
New rules for teens go into effect tonight at the Village at Sandhill in Northeast Richland.
Under the new rules:
- Kids 16 and younger will have to leave the sprawling shopping center by 6 on Friday and Saturday nights unless they are with a parent or adult guardian.
- If the young people have movie tickets, they will be required to wait next to the box office until they can be let into the theater.
- After the movie, they will be routed to a waiting area near Rita's Italian Ice to be picked up.
The Richland County Sheriff's Department and public safety officers at the shopping center will enforce the new policy starting at 6 tonight.
Stein Mart closing
Stein Mart on Two Notch Road in Northeast Richland will close its doors this month as the retailer struggles to weather the economic downturn.
The Columbia and Lexington locations will stay open, said spokeswoman Susan Edelman.
The store at Two Notch and Polo roads opened in 1990 and employed between 40 and 45 people, Edelman said.
The Jacksonville, Fla.-based chain has been closing a handful of stores each year and will close 11 this year. They choose the stores that will close on the basis of a number of factors, including sales, Edelman said.