For many, Christmas is an opportunity to finally get necessities and new gadgets that haven’t fit themselves into their year’s budget, and the personal side of gift giving can be lost. It’s easy to go for utility over meaning.
Luckily for Carpinteria, Susan Willis knows how to help you find the right gift to bring someone a little joy.
Ms. Willis owns Susan Willis Ltd., a gift shop at 4488 Carpinteria Ave. that she has run herself since 1993. Inside the store you’ll find a collage of clothing, decorations, treats, baby items, and anything to make a house a home.
When asked what most people come in looking for, Ms. Willis didn’t take long to come up with an answer.
“Something to make themselves happy,” she laughed.
Her business has changed a great deal over the years, but her work has always revolved around bringing style and beauty into Carpinteria homes ever since she struck out on her own almost 30 years ago.
After working in the fashion industry and then leaving to raise her two children, Ms. Willis started selling slip-covers that she made at home. After the kids left the house, Ms. Willis set up shop in the same location she is in today.
“Then it just evolved over the years. It went from, you know, I had the sewing part of it and the showroom for my work, and then also some furniture and decorative things to make it look good,” she said.
Eventually the furniture started selling more and took over the store, but after the recession around 2008, furniture sales plunged and Ms. Willis transitioned to smaller items for the home.
These days, the big changes are over and the store has settled into being a gift shop,” said Ms. Willis, but that doesn’t mean the inventory isn’t constantly changing.
“Now generally I just do big buying twice a year, and they have a big gift show in Las Vegas. It’s very fun.”
Her background in fashion helps Ms. Willis visualize what’s going to work with the items in the store. Everything for sale is reflective of her tastes.
“Everyone says it has kind of a Mediterranean feel to it or East Coast. It does not feel California-ish, which … I don’t know. I’ve always lived here!” said Ms. Willis.
Customers shop at Susan Willis throughout the year for a variety of reasons, from buying gifts for weddings and baby showers to buying decorations to give their Carpinteria home a beachy vibe.
Lately, import food items for dinner parties, like italian balsamics and flatbreads, have been popular, as well as a new line of pajamas designed for both sleep and activewear. Whatever the need, Ms. Willis loves helping customers figure out the best gift for the occasion.
“Shopping is all about getting something, not feeling. My store is all about feeling — inviting, like you’ve really thought about someone when you purchase something, not ‘Oh, I need a gift for so-and-so,’ ” Ms. Willis said.
As the store has evolved into a gift shop, Ms. Willis said, the work has become more rewarding. She loves letting people browse the store and then stepping in to help them find something perfectly personal.
Not all gifts are for a celebration, and Ms. Willis canl find something to help those suffering from grief.
“There’s not much you can do, so they want to come and find something really special for that person to bring them that joy, and that to me is really satisfying. I don’t know how to put it into words but it’s a nice thing to be able to do because I’ve experienced it myself,” she said.
If you stop by the store for the Christmas season, you’ll find the displays covered with ornaments, Santas, trees, and everything needed to spruce up the home for the holidays. Ornaments are 20% off, a great deal for those wanting something nicer than the selection at Target but more affordable than what’ i sold in Montecito. Ms. Willis also provides complimentary gift wrapping, complete with a reusable gift bag.
Running Susan Willis Ltd. has been a roller-coaster for Ms. Willis, but she loves it and said it will be hard to give it up when she retires.
“As long as people support me I’ll be here,” she said.