Mills said that her mother's health deteriorated and that she eventually closed the store. "In 2018, my niece was floating around after high school and wasn't sure what she wanted to do. I had my bookkeeping office and was contemplating moving downtown, but the place I was looking at had a large front area that I didn't need." Mills said she offered her niece, Jessica Head, the space to open up her version of Amazing Gifts. Head ran the store for a year before deciding to try something new. "She asked me if I wanted to buy the store from her, and I said that I would. So, in September 2019, I took over," explained Mills. Amazing Gifts rents shelf space to local artists, creators, and small businesses, allowing artisans to have a platform they otherwise couldn’t have.
Mills said that her mother originally came up with the idea after visiting a similar one in Spruce Grove. "It was commission-based, and the lady made the people who had their stuff in her store work in the store too. My mom felt that was no different than a trade fair which does not free up someone's time, and she did not like that. She did not want to do it by commission. She wanted it to be their shelf. You rent the space, display what you want, and she would pay you out at the end of the month. She was successful in doing that, and it is the same structure that we do now. You pay for your space like a trade fair, except you don't have to work your table."
Mills said that sellers in the store do well and that they grow every month. For example, last December, they had 63 vendors, and they currently have 56. "The first Christmas, we had about 20 vendors, so we've grown a lot and are continuing to grow all the time. I didn't realize how many crafters, vendors and small businesses we have in town. It's really impressive."
Mills, who enjoys shopping in her own store regularly, said new things enter the store all the time. "I loved when someone brought in barn wood frames. I thought it was so neat to see someone using resources from around the area and turning them into something." She also loved seeing the pottery creations. "You get this idea of what pottery is, and then these vendors came in that made pottery, and I didn't know you could even do that with pottery. I had no idea. I love looking at all the little knickknacks they make. There are even birdhouses," chuckled Mills.
Another significant aspect of the store is that they keep the pricing affordable. "Vendors will ask us what the price range is, and we say that if you go more than $40, you're going to have people shy away from the price because people typically don't want to pay that much for a gift. We have never had anyone come in and say they would never pay the price for something. It's very reasonable pricing for giftware. Even a kid could come into Amazing Gifts with ten dollars and find a gift for mom.
One of the last things Mills said she hears when customers leave is that they will return soon. "We always hear, I'll be back! You never know what idea crafters will come up with, and you never know what you are going to find in here. It is like a treasure hunt every time you come in. I own the store, and daily I can go out and see something I have not seen yet. It's awesome!"
Shoppers can find sheep pellets for garden fertilizer, handmade soaps, water bottles, wooden jewellery, baby teethers, beeswax wraps, unique key chains, coffee, balloons, doll clothes, home décor, furniture paint, gnomes, clothing with sayings on them, stones, macrame, reusable bags, blankets, hand-poured candles, wreaths, and so much more. Shoppers can even put together personalized gift baskets. "We have gifts for everybody on your list, and if we don't have it, we usually have access to somebody that does," said Mills. "We also have handmade cards here. Hallmark cards are like six dollars a card, and you can get a beautiful handmade card in here for three dollars."
For vendors looking to dip their toes into the world of retail sales, Mills encourages them to call her to chat about renting a space. "We always have space. It looks full in the store because I have brought in some inventory to fill any gaps, but if someone wants to rent the shelf, then I pull my inventory out to give them that space." The only time Mills said space becomes an issue is Christmas. "We don't do pre-bookings for Christmas. Last year we said to get in by November, and this year we are saying to get in by September." Amazing Gifts is open Monday to Friday from 9 to 5 and Saturday from 11 to 4 at 5014-50 Street.
Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press