The distinctive Bibelot shops — neighborhood stores with a flair for gifts, cards and decor that couldn’t be found elsewhere — are closing.
With an eye for a small treasure — or “bibelot” in French — Roxy Freese filled her stores with fun, stylish and memorable jewelry, toys, stationery and clothing.
Freese, 86, said Monday that she’s retiring and closing her four stores, the oldest of which has been open for 52 years. “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 Monday.
Even so, the news is a blow to a generation of shoppers who counted on Bibelot for special, often last-minute gifts that came in a simple cardboard box adorned with a colorful ribbon.
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 in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul. 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. There is a shop on Grand Avenue in St. Paul, and one in northeast Minneapolis. 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 Bibelot 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. Many of the items she sold were crafted locally.
“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 he was saddened by Freese’s decision. “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 Great Recession.
Ten years ago, Bibelot tried to develop a website that could keep up with growing competition that ranged from individuals to 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 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.