Tiny Christmas Shop Lures Cape Visitors
By Standard-Times Staff Writer
Cape Cod, Nov. 9 – Outlanders who think Cape Cod is an empty house from Labor Day to Memorial Day should pause at the Christmas Shop. Barely large enough to garage a motor-scooter, the Christmas Shop is brisk and busy these steel-gray November days. And the visitors to the unique shop aren’t just folk who live handy…they come from all over.
The bosses of the 10-by-13-foot Christmas Shop, the Misses Marise Fawsett and Yvonne Rousseau, deny they invented the phrase “low overhead.” But they certainly set a good example, even though they did add an ell 6 by 8 feet.
Phrases about better mousetraps come to mind naturally when you duck your head and enter the tiny shop. Charming drawings by Miss Fawsett feature some of the kindest, gentlest and most sympathetic mice you will ever see.
(She confesses to a weakness for mice; has written some surprisingly good verse to accompany mouse drawings of hers she puts on personally-designed and printed cards.)
The gift shop business on Cape Cod, even for the Christmas Shop, is a seven-month affair with the remaining five months spent more or less sweating it out until the warmer weather. Despite the droves of tourists and Summer residents, the gift-shop business is no easy way to wealth; knowledgeable and skillful operators have gone resoundingly broke.
Under the circumstances, the success of Miss Fawsett and Miss Rousseau is even more startling. Apart from a talent with a pen, Miss Fawsett’s business experience was limited to a World War II defense job in a Putnam, Conn. textile plant.
Miss Rousseau’s business experience consisted entirely of piano teaching to moppets in Connecticut. Despite their utter lack of experience, the pair have made a successful go of a tricky and pitfall-edged business.
They’ll both tell you the same thing: they started slowly, they’ve avoided expensive expansion, they’ve concentrated on miniature items, usually imported (of necessity), always on good taste and reasonable in price.
They began the Christmas Shop in 1946 as a seasonal affair—come Autumn, they returned to Connecticut. Four years of this seasonal commuting coupled with their love for the Cape decided them to end the moving and stay [on the Cape] the year round.
They resisted any temptation to expand, thanks to the advice of customers and friends. As a result, they never found themselves in debt with a big stock of unsold, unpaid-for merchandise. They learned from experience—but, because they were taking it easy and playing it close, they didn’t have to pay experience’s usual high fees.
Their concentration on miniatures was a happy inspiration—and a natural one; they really haven’t room for anything very large in the little store. They attend the annual gift show and read the trade journals religiously; concentrate their buying on miniature items their larger competitors, bemused by glass and pewter and aluminum and ceramics and wood, tend to overlook, and let their own good taste be their guide.
As a result, the Christmas Shop offers visitors a choice of items vastly different from the usual run-of-mine gift shop merchandise—and, thanks again to less-foresighted competitors, much of their stock is exclusive with them in this area.
(Of course, profit margins enter into this, the women admit; even a brisk sale of miniatures wouldn’t go very far toward meeting the overhead of a bigger store.)
House of Cards
Miss Rousseau says flatly the business got off to a good start thanks to Miss Fawsett’s Christmas and other cards; all drawn and printed by herself. The duo have supplemented her cards—all of them would be delightful if framed and hung in a child’s room—with many cards from other sources of equally good taste and that quality of the unusual that delights the discriminating.
There are some other angles, too. The very smallness and informality of the shop, coupled with the warm friendliness of its owners, has much appeal to visitors who always get—and appreciate—truly personal service.
The tininess of the place, naturally enough—it was once a barn used to store salt hay for what must have been very small horses—has a lure all its own. At a time when some Cape shops are angled sheets of glass and chrome, the Christmas Shop is uncompromisingly old Cape Cod in every gaunt, sturdy line.
In addition to Christmas and other cards, the Christmas Shop crams a bewildering variety of items into its shelves and counters.
There are miniature croquet sets; tiny old cars; miniature British tram cars; a little plastic crèche from Portugal and larger ones from Italy and the Tyrol; a bowling set of toy soldiers and two small balls; a small, but unusually-good selection of children’s books; old-fashioned German Christmas-tree ornaments—pasteboard balls designed to be filled with candy; some of Miss Fawsett’s neatly-executed watercolors; a tiny Noah’s Ark compete with wooden passengers; a mouse band complete with instruments, and a gnome family from Denmark.
Tiles, one of them representing the “first day of Christmas” from the traditional song, are on hand and so are a wide variety of other items, most of them unique and unusual and all of them in the best of taste.
The two owners work seven days a week, go home for a quick lunch one at a time, spend hours at home drawing etching, and printing cards. They freely admit they’re not getting rich . . . but they are emphatic in declaring they’ve found serenity and security on the Cape; from their little shop they watch the sun set over the hills of Sandwich, see the marsh and the trees change color with the seasons. They’re having fun at the Christmas Shop—and they’re supremely content.