Polka Dot Gifts creates friendly atmosphere with lots to browse
When you step into Polka Dot Gifts on Oliver’s Main Street, you’re in for an adventure of discovery.
The spacious shop is packed with locally made crafts, bric-a-brac, little practical items like wallets, jewelry, pictures of movie stars, essential oils, aroma therapy products, and maybe a green vase shaped like a fish with a wide-open mouth.
There are women’s accessories, home furnishings, clothing, and even some items that might appeal to men.
Owner Tracey Fleury opened the shop on July 15, 2021, and she’s assisted by Jesa Saunders, who lives upstairs with her partner.
“She’s my left hand, my right hand – you name it,” Fleury says of Saunders. It’s clear there’s a bond between the two women that goes beyond employer-employee.
Prior to the shop opening, the storefront space was just used as storage.
This is not Fleury’s first gift shop. She owned a similar, but smaller shop for four years in the small Alberta town of Black Diamond, south of Calgary.
When Fleury’s husband retired, they chose to move back to the Okanagan, where they first met 29 years ago. They were only in Oliver about three months when Fleury opened her shop.
The store is named in honour of Fleury’s late mother-in-law, Dot, short for Dorothy, who also loved polka dots. Fleury notes that it has no connection with Polka Dot Door Floral Design Boutique in Osoyoos.
“I didn’t really know that was there until after I’d chosen the name and got the sign,” she said. “I probably wouldn’t have called it that if I’d known about Polka Dot Door, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing and we’re not hurting each other’s business.”
Fleury is originally from just outside Liverpool, England, but she’s been in Canada since 1978. She’s been a professional singer all her life, and often worked in retail between gigs and band breakups.
Saunders says Fleury “has an exquisite eye” for what to sell. Fleury says it’s more a case of “hit and miss,” but it’s worked out well.
“You get a Spidey sense,” she says.
“I’m all over the place,” she adds. “I like to pick a bunch of different things because it’s not just to suit me as to suit everybody, so I might pick something, and it sells the next time you put it in the store.”
Customers come from all age groups – high school students to seniors – and they come from throughout the Okanagan Valley. Many customers are from Oliver, and they drop by to browse and chat and end up leaving with impulse purchases.
The most obvious demographic is gender – this is a shop that appeals predominantly to women, though Fleury is making an effort to find items that appeal to men.
There’s a men’s corner on the left as you enter the shop with tin signs on automotive themes, paintings of classic cars and trucks, and items that celebrate beer drinking.
“Most of the men like it, because they go around my shop and there’s nothing for them, but they can buy for their wives,” said Fleury.
There are also items like wallets, pocket watches, leather bracelets, jewelry, and soap that are unisex or geared to men.
Some men are crafters, and they’ll stop by to show their work and perhaps leave it at the shop to sell in the consignment area.
There’s a relaxed, friendly atmosphere that is conducive to browsing.
“I have some really great conversations with people,” said Saunders. “That’s my favourite part, just building community and people having places to pop into. We try to keep it a fairly lighthearted atmosphere. Things are so serious out there.”
Saunders is especially pleased to work for Fleury, and she says the two women are so similar in their love of merchandising and how they work.
“I’ve worked in previous shops where you have to tiptoe around the boss,” she said. “But she has so much trust in me.”
Besides the local crafters, many products come from Canadian companies who source items overseas from countries like India, Nepal, and others.
Fleury said she finds some of the suppliers on the internet by looking for “home fashions” and “wholesale.”
The most popular items have been wallets, hats, scarves, gloves, and the local artisanal work.
Saunders attributes the success not only to the items they sell, but to Fleury’s warmth and ability to create a homey atmosphere.
“She’s got a lot of heart that she brings to the space,” said Saunders. “My view of why her space is so beautifully received here is because she came here bringing so much heart.”
Besides the tribute to Fleury’s mother-in-law there are also personal mementos such as the collar and tag of a dog she had for 17 years that now adorns a dog statue. And there’s a beautiful picture of Fleury’s first horse.
The two women recount how somebody brought in an old Kodak Brownie box camera to donate for one of the displays featuring pictures of movie stars like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
A local firefighter came into the store and asked how much they wanted for the camera.
“I said it was gifted to me and so I’m going to gift it to you,” said Fleury. “He was shocked.” The man offered her money, but she insisted it was a gift to him because it was given to her.
“I’m a bit soft, but don’t tell anybody,” Fleury said.
Story and photos by Richard McGuire
Polka Dot Gifts
6246 Main Street
Oliver, BC V0H 1T0