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The awnings of 21st-century business districts are littered with nouns. Words like Tangerine, Sprout and Scout, upgraded from common noun to proper, now grace the entrances of countless hip boutiques.
“Notice” chose instead to be a verb. Now entering its eighth month at 2112 Central St., the gift and accessories shop speaks in the imperative voice: “Observe, take in, take note.”
Notice opened with a point of view distinct from that of two well loved neighbors also specializing in gifts and accessories. “It’s important to be our own selves,’ says Becky Jackson, buyer and store manager for Notice.
She says she thinks it is the store’s modern sensibility that sets it apart. But she is quick to add that having Perennials and Stella on the same block as Notice gives customers a choice and “helps all of us.”
Ms. Jackson is one of the trio of women whose vision shapes the store. The triumvirate includes her mother, who owns Notice, and her younger sister, who runs Notice’s elder sister store in Lake Geneva. Mother and daughters take all their buying trips to gift and clothing shows together.
Their contemporary esthetic is on view throughout the shop. Ms. Jackson, who is still officially on maternity leave after giving birth to a son, Mason, talks about some of her favorite vendors. In the baby department, she singles out Dwell Studio, whose products she admires for their “beautiful patterns, soft fabrics [and] bold, clean, modern lines.” There are toys, too – mostly simple in design and often eco-friendly, such as the large, bright animal push toys and matching onesies by Manny and Simon and the soft, cuddly knit dolls by Blabla.
The family taste runs to minimalist jewelry as well. Among the handmade pieces they select from individual American artists are the hammered silver lariats by Freshie and Zero (artist and dog, respectively) Ms. Jackson calls “clean, simple and pretty.” Jewelry ranges in price from luxurious pieces like these, in precious metal, to $20 acrylic necklaces with a map that includes Evanston and predicts “Geography is destiny.”
Ms. Jackson says it is not uncommon for people to say of an item at Notice, “Oh, I saw that at the Museum of Modern Art.” The “artistic eye” she says she and her mother share may be responsible for the MOMA effect. That “eye” also sometimes leads them to quirky purchases like the tiny paper blocks and paper pipe robots from Japan that have become a favorite of Ms. Jackson’s husband.
Also notable is the line of handbags by Mosey – such “beautiful, functional handbags,” says Ms. Jackson, that knowing they are made of recycled water bottles is just “icing on the cake.” There are wallets and small leather purses, too, with subtle colors on the outside and a rainbow within.
The shop fairly explodes with novel merchandise but feels interesting rather than cluttered. Ms. Jackson says the visual presentation is another expression of her artful eye. “I know when it’s right,” she says. She sharpened her intuition with marketing skills acquired in the course of eight years’ work at Banana Republic.
Her buying expertise came at the hands of her retail-savvy parents. Before opening Notice in Lake Geneva (April 2010) and Central Street (March 15, 2011), they had added a small gift section to the frame shop they have been running in the Ravinia district of Highland Park since 1984. They anointed their firstborn as buyer for the store while she was still in college.
Their gift department burgeoned, earning its own name – Notice — four years ago and then outgrowing its allotted space in the frame shop. Just a few years later, the family seized the opportunity to expand to a storefront on Lake Geneva’s main street.
It took them six months to find another location as advantageous, Ms. Jackson says. They seem to have found it on Central Street, calling the location “a perfect fit for us.” Ms. Jackson says their merchandise has found a fit in Evanston, and “locals like to shop local. They support local businesses.” Besides, her mother says, the family appreciates the fact that Evanston customers “live green” – carrying baguettes out of Foodstuffs without asking for a bag, for instance – rather than just talking the talk on environment.
Asked whether there is any competition between sisters and stores, Ms. Jackson smiles. “Always,” she says. She tells her employees, “Don’t let Lake Geneva beat you.”
For awhile the Evanston store was “blowing [the Lake Geneva store} out of the water,” she says, but sales in the resort community got a boost from the summer tourist season.
Another competitor might be in the wings: Ms. Jackson’s brother is an accounting major in college, and, just coincidentally, her mom is “dreaming of another store,” she says. They are exploring sites from Milwaukee to other Chicago suburbs.