The new children’s clothing and gift store in town has a whimsical name and merchandise to match: Owner Simone Oettinger is counting on the fact that Maya Papaya and Tony Macarony, 1917 Central St., will provide an appealing alternative to the predictability of the mall.
Ms. Oettinger calls her store’s clothing “unique, trendy” but “wearable, comfortable” – a combination she says should fit her clientele.
While the store’s musical name just “popped into my head,” she says (albeit after she rejected a long list), she has been gathering information about children’s clothing – and the friends and neighbors who buy it – for years.
A 20-year resident of Evanston with 9 1/2- and 11-year-old daughters and a home within view of Orrington School, Ms. Oettinger has long noticed what Evanston children like to wear. She has also taken note of their moms’ consumer instincts. “People in Evanston are down-to-earth and reasonable,” she says. She is betting Evanstonians will prefer T-shirts that say “Gucci Coo” and “Pradada” to the real designer items, because “they will spend their money – but wisely. They want something that makes sense, is wearable.”
The store is the concrete manifestation of her New Year’s resolution. For years Ms. Oettinger sold children’s clothes and toys on the Internet, acquainting herself with the field — and dreaming of opening a shop.
“But I did nothing. I asked myself why,” she says. Last January, she says, she gave herself an ultimatum for the new year: “Start acting.”
She began searching for a space, eventually settling on the former home of an antique store. After moving a wall and refinishing the floor, she transformed the subdued space into a child’s playroom. She slathered the room with bright orange and yellow paint, festooned the heating ducts with vines and commissioned a mural of a monkey frolicking amid tropical foliage for behind the counter.
Where traditional pastel clothing would disappear, the store’s imaginative wares play well against the deep hues and playful jungle décor.
Maya Papaya clothes are bold and colorful. For girls size 2 to 12 there are Wati creations, the sort of bright-colored “urban fashion” Ms. Oettinger says they love. Despite details such as frayed-edge ruffles and embroidery, she notes Wati’s “reasonable price point.”
Twice as expensive, but appealing for a splurge, are dresses with the Room 7 label. With their tiers of fabric in mixed prints, they are reminiscent of Holland’s colorful Oilily brand, and no wonder: Ms. Oettinger says the daughter of Oilily’s founders is the designer for Room 7.
Belle Ame frocks are new arrivals at Maya Papaya. The tulle skirts in black and hot pink are so full they stand up on their own; coordinated tops have a matching ruffle at the neck. While these are meant for street wear, the shop also has tutus for playing dress-up. They are packaged in pickle jars.
Little boys will be able to roughhouse in Charlie Rocket and Wes and Willy tees. Or they – or their moms – can make a fashion statement with shirts like the Kit + Lili white-with-black print Ms. Oettinger calls “bold and punchy.” For baby boys there are Tea brand mix-and-match separates in red, navy and olive, stenciled and painted with designs of jungle creatures – monkeys, tigers and the like.
Ms. Oettinger says because her own taste is eclectic (she describes it as extending from “funky to classic”), she likes everything in the store. “I have to be passionate about what I sell,” she explains. “It’s difficult to sell what you don’t believe in.”
Anticipating an ongoing demand for shower and baby gifts, she has gathered an unusual selection: yellow plastic cutlery by Constructive Eating, including a forklift fork and bulldozer pusher to put pizzazz into mealtime; bath towels with hoods trimmed with animal ears and faces to make getting clean as much fun as Halloween; hair accessories and hats with enough crystals to make little girls feel like royalty; fleece blankets appliquéd with felt cupcakes to warm winter babies.
Ms. Oettinger is awaiting the awning and sign that will identify her store for those driving by. She predicts the store website,www.maya-tony.com, will be ready for e-commerce soon (a temporary site is accessible at www.mayapapayaandtonymacarony.com). Evanston customers will be able to arrange free store pickup or order online items to be shipped.
Meanwhile, she says she thinks she is off to a good start. She says she is listening to requests and comments and from here “will try to accommodate her customers and please the crowd.”