In today’s world, so much of our shopping is done online. We surf the Internet scanning our favorite sites, and in a few clicks we have plopped items into our virtual shopping bag, made the purchase and need only wait a few days for a package to be placed at our door step.
It is simple, especially with the hectic lives that most of us lead. However, it isn’t the same experience that shopping once was. Shopping was meant to be lived; feeling the fabric between your fingertips, gazing longingly into intricately arranged window displays and having good old fashioned fun getting out of the house.
Wit’s End Giftique — located at 1762 Route 9 — is celebrating its 40th anniversary for exactly this reason.
“The joy is in the journey,” owner Susan Hoffman said. “It’s not in the landing.”
Hoffman was fresh out of school when she began this institution. “I was just getting out of college,” she said. “My whole background is business; my father [Paul Hoffman] was one of the three brothers in Hoffman’s in Latham, my father had Hoffman’s restaurant and Hoffman’s Drive-In.”
She continued: “I’ve worked since I was 8 years old. When I was too short to reach the machines I would stand on a milk crate all day drawing sodas, making ice cream cones.”
“Business is what I knew, what I thrived on — I just loved it. I love being with people; I loved it then and 40 years later, I still love it.”
With the guidance of her father, she was steered toward selling gifts. The name of Hoffman’s business reflects the frantic question we have all asked ourselves when a holiday is fast approaching: What do I get her?
Instead of reaching your wits’ end, just stop by the store; most likely in a matter of minutes you’ll be stumped no longer.
“In this area, there are malls,” longtime customer-turned-employee Bonnie Tanner said. “This is a boutique, but it’s beyond a boutique. People come in here and they say, ‘I cannot believe this is even here.’ It’s like a Disneyland of stores; everything encompassed under one roof.”
The store has grown in waves of expansion.
The original structure, totaling 5,400 square feet of space filled with candies, candles and soaps, was built in 1975, when her father bought the property and tore down a few barns.
Over these past four decades the store has expanded repeatedly to reach 25,000 square feet, and will be expanding once again — as long as the town gives the final green light — this spring.
They broke some walls to create the first addition in 1978 and, like a treasure chest, it’s mostly full of gold, silver and beautiful stones — a massive jewelry section.
Then, the second addition, the cobblestone street, was done in 1998. The white balusters along the walls came from StoryTown in Lake George and now hold up posed antique German mannequins.
Then, in 2012, 10,000 square feet of the store was taken over by clothing in a storefront motif.
“Each storefront is a facade from that particular area,” Hoffman said. “The pink awning under Hollywood is the famous one on Rodeo Drive and the Bottega is the exact replica of the storefront for Balgari in Italy.”
Between shelves of folded sweaters and shirts sit square-filled window panels. “I wanted to simulate window shopping,” Hoffman said. “So you could see something on the other side; old fashioned shopping the way it used to be.”
She continued: “It’s been hugely rewarding. I didn’t really know clothing; we have a team of buyers — there are four of them — and they ensure there is something for each age group.”
They track the trends and make them appear for their customers. You will always find something new.
“We look for something for everyone; we have a range of customers from teenagers to people in their 80s,” said AnnMarie DuCharme, a buyer for the last five years. “We want everyone to feel comfortable when they leave here that they found something unique, something that they love and that they feel special in.”
They purchase clothing from all over the country: New York, Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles and Miami.
This is the place where you can find just about anything.
“I learned very quickly when I came here to never say never,” said Phyllis Mullaney, an employee for the last four Christmases. “It’s here someplace.”
That is especially true with Christmas sections. The loft is full of picture-perfect miniature villages illuminated with white lights and sparkling specks of snow. There is even a room dedicated solely to ornaments.
They have ornaments for everybody. Literally think of someone in your life and there will be an ornament for their role: your volunteer, your babysitter, your hairdresser, a godparent, etc.
Throughout this area there are skinny artificial trees, and each is full of trinkets that share a similar theme such as music, sports or seaside. Anything Eatable — a personal favorite — is layered with any food you could desire such as pickles, french fries and pepperoni pizza. The cupcakes may be mistaken for the real thing; they are soft, spongy to the touch and the bright frosting, sprinkles and pearl shaped candies could induce drooling.
The best ornament of this grouping, however, is without a doubt, bacon (Men, you can rejoice and be glad, now you can finally slap this foodstuff on the tree.) The packaging stays in the grocery-store style spirit; you really feel like you’re buying a pound of the thin-sliced cured meat. “We had so many requests for bacon,” Hoffman said. “Wait until I show you, it’s fabulous!”
Each bauble can be personalized with the inscription of a name, date or message; Hoffman does the calligraphy work herself.
Children could get lost in the land of plush stuffed animals, which come in all different sizes and shapes. “It’s really hard to find a good selection of plush animals anymore,” Hoffman said. “We try to bring in things that you don’t normally see.”
Walking into the store, the atmosphere is warm and inviting, which is exactly how Hoffman hoped it would be so many years ago — a special place in the hearts of many.
“That’s what it’s all about” she said. “That’s what you can get here, the feeling of the holiday — whatever it is — and start to create your own family traditions and make memories.”