I hope everyone likes their Christmas gifts this year. I really love picking out presents and trying to figure out what family and friends will like. It’s one of my holiday indulgences to go around to my favorite little stores, say hello to the shop owners I’ve gotten to know and find the (hopefully) perfect and (beautifully) unusual gift.
I have a bunch of pre-teen and teenage girls in my life. For these lovelies, I head to Brat in Santa Monica. Brat has been a neighborhood fixture for 10 years. Owner Nancy Kaufman has a great eye for items that are trendy, a bit edgy and unique. This year we grabbed some funky critter hats, heart rings and voodoo keychain dolls. I spoke with Kaufman about the challenges of owning a small business in this economy, the idea behind her store and her love of the community she’s part of. But first here’s a quick top 5 list of reasonably priced, popular items this holiday season:
1. Critter hats—fuzzy, knitted and otherwise. My daughter gets loads of compliments on her knitted owl hat.
2. Texting gloves—not a new item, but fingerless gloves do make texting and touch screens easy in cold weather and they look cool.
3. Dolman sleeve tops—Kaufman said she was on the fence about these at first, but the designers have really gotten them right and they look great.
4. Navajo print leggings—Great patterns that go with skirts and boots for chilly mornings.
5. Journals & interactive books—These are a perennial favorite and publishers are putting out really creative, fun books for kids and adults.
Walking into the Brat store is a fiesta for the eyes. T-shirts for men and women line the walls, printed scarves, tutus and hats hang side by side, neat racks of dresses, coats and skirts occupy the center of the store and everywhere you turn there’s something eye-catching, funny or cool to look at. Kaufman’s desk/sales register is at the back of the store, near the dressing room and gives her plenty of opportunity to chat and make suggestions when needed. Kaufman said,
“This is truly a neighborhood store. Part of the joy of being in the neighborhood is that I can take care of the baby showers and a gift for the grandmothers as well. I don’t really target a specific audience except an audience that likes to have stuff that’s a little more creative, a little more edgy than they’re going to find other places…It’s nice to get to know the owners of these neighborhood stores too. They’re really good, hardworking people that appreciate the business. We like knowing our customers, knowing faces, helping out and going the extra mile.”
As a neighborhood hub, Brat has something for everyone, for students, college kids, even young families. There’s cross over with lots of different groups and Kaufman’s own aesthetic. In reaching out to the Latino community, she said,
“I love milagros, Mexican masked wrestling stuff. Stuff that’s a little more offbeat even in that culture. I try to stock those things as well because I like them, but they love them as well. There’s one company that we stock that makes coin purses that look like the little sugar breads. When my Latino customers come in, they just crack up when they see these things. It makes them feel really welcome. We don’t appeal to just one type of ethnic group. This store is for everybody.”
A standard in the store is the collection of journals and books like the Scribbles series. Kaufman is a big believer in journaling, especially for young people. She said she’s seen a real rise in the interest teens have in keeping a journal. It’s a chance to put down thoughts, sketches and mood changes in “their own font” as a reaction to all the computer and screen communication. It’s personal, it’s their keepsake.
Kaufman encourages her young customers in finding ways to express themselves, whether it’s on paper, through their clothing or with their friends. Brat is a wonderful extension of Kaufman and the things she cares about. This comes through in how she describes her interactions with customers. She’s had customers who started coming in during middle school and have written her letters years later to thank her for encouraging them to be themselves and helping them ride out the tough pressures of the teen years. Kids come in just to talk about things that happen at school or with friends. This is what Kaufman loves about her job.
You can visit the Brat store at 1938 14th St, Santa Monica, CA 90405 or check out their website at www.bratstore.com. Make sure you say hello to Nancy. The last time I saw her she was wearing vintage eyeglasses and a fuzzy bear hat. Happy Holidays and Happy Shopping!