Bibelot, popular and distinctive gift stores in the Twin Cities, is closing as owner retires
The owner of the distinctive Bibelot gift shops in the Twin Cities, Roxy Freese, is retiring at age 86 and decided to close her four stores.
Freese says she prefers to think the stores, the oldest of which has been open for 52 years, are retiring, too.
“Some people are calling it the end of an era, but I don’t think it’s quite up to that standard,” she said with a laugh on Monday.
Even so, the news is a blow to a generation of Minnesota shoppers who counted on Bibelot’s flair for gifts, cards and decor that couldn’t be found elsewhere.
Steve Mitchell, who was shopping in the Bibelot store in the Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis Monday afternoon, bowed his head when he heard the news.
“I come in here looking for unique things,” Mitchell said. “It’s been here for as long as I can remember.”
A “retirement sale” starts Wednesday with initial discounts of 30 percent and is expected to last into January or February. A final closing date hasn’t been set.
Freese opened the first Bibelot store in 1966 on Como Avenue in St. Anthony Park. The fine arts major started the business with $10,000 and her father’s signature, which was required at that time for a woman in business. The other locations are on Grand Avenue in St. Paul and Upton Avenue S. and University Avenue SE. in Minneapolis.
With an eye for a small treasure — or “bibelot” in French — Freese filled her stores with fun, stylish and memorable jewelry, toys, stationery and clothing. Many of the pieces were designed and crafted locally.
And decades before “fast fashion” became a retail strategy, Freese bought items in small quantities to sell through them quickly. That way, even frequent shoppers felt as a Bibelot store always had something fresh.
In the late 1960s, she added a corner of imports from India that caught on. More recently, she added women’s casual clothing.
“I just responded to the trends as they happened,” she said. “Over the years we added more imports but we always focused on local crafts people. Some of our jewelry crafts people have been with us almost since we opened.”
Rick Haase, co-owner of Patina gift shops, got his start in the business at Bibelot thanks to Freese. He did his college internship at Bibelot and worked there from 1983 to 1992.
“Roxy is the heart and soul of Bibelot,” he said. “Not only is she a great entrepreneur, she’s also a humanitarian. She provided health care to her employees well before the competition.”
Haase said Freese’s decision to close the stores made him incredibly sad. “She has done wonderful things in the retail landscape in the past 50 years,” he said.
Freese said she has tried without success to find a buyer for the four Bibelot stores. Revenue has been steady in recent years, but it has never returned where it was before the recession in 2008 and 2009.
Ten years ago, Bibelot tried to develop a website that could keep up with growing competition from online sellers that ranged from individuals to the giant Amazon. But four years ago, she decided that wasn’t worth the time and money.
Haase said Patina came to the similar decision several years ago.
Freese said she will entertain any offers that may turn up before she closes the stores early next year. Until then, she hopes for strong holiday sales and will start to liquidate the inventory.
“Any new buyer would want to start with new merchandise anyway,” she said.
Staff writer Karen Zamora contributed to this report.
John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633