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By Nancy Gelston Fries | Contributor


When I attended Laguna Beach High School more than 40 years ago, nearly every girl carried her books in an African kikuyu bag. I was all but certain of exactly where each girl purchased her bag. Not at Laguna Hills Mall, though we loved to take the OCTA bus there. Not online (no Internet yet). And not on an exotic trip. Those bags were purchased at a store on Forest Avenue called Thee Foxes’ Trot that specialized in artisan-made, ethnic home furnishings, clothing and accessories. Indeed, I felt a small debt of gratitude to each girl with a kikuyu bag because for 37 years, my family owned that store.

My parents passed the retail gene to my two sisters but — while I sometimes helped out on holidays — I followed a different path. Nevertheless, my longtime exposure to the retail business instilled in me a deep appreciation for thoughtfully curated local stores. Whether looking for home decor, an article of clothing or simply browsing, I relish the sense of discovery in a small shop. I know the care the owner puts into selecting each item, and I delight in seeing how they’ve pulled everything together into a cohesive experience for me, the shopper. It’s a world apart from department stores or big box chains, where buyers are tethered to brands, deciding mostly how many of each size to order. Sure, I buy my jeans at Nordstrom and my paper towels at Target. But I find those ubiquitous stores predictable, their racks and racks of options overwhelming and uninspiring.

My younger sister, Jeanna Mingram, essentially grew up behind the store counter and remembers an endless parade of colorful vendors. “Mom and Dad would buy things out of people's trunks or from artisans who came in and said, ‘Look what I made,’” she recalls. 


Our parents traveled to gift shows and purchased some larger brands from distributors, but they also focused on found objects, unique imports and local wares. Once she was old enough, Jeanna worked there for many years. Now she has her own store, Driftwood Home + Lifestyle in Seal Beach, where she also incorporates local influence. “Yes, I buy from some bigger manufacturers, but I'm always looking to support small businesses,” she says. “I have candles in my store that a local mom pours herself. I sell jewelry from a gal who lives in Long Beach.”

I felt that local vibe in stores I stumbled upon on some recent trips. At B Huno in Barcelona, a few doors down from my hotel, clothing designer Barbara Oliveras sells her own line and select other items. I cherish my purchases from her store, in part because they evoke memories and cannot be found anywhere near home. Similarly, in Chicago, I strolled up Michigan Avenue, passing Neiman Marcus and Louis Vuitton with hardly a glance, turning right on Chestnut Street to find Space 519. In addition to a thoughtful collection of designer clothing, handbags, personal care products and home goods, the gourmet Lunchroom cafe occupies part of the space. It’s special. I hope that tourists to Orange County feel that our own local retail is special, bringing home cherished objects from Corona del Mar or Lido Village, Old Towne Orange or San Juan Capistrano. But those stores can’t subsist on tourism alone; we locals need to frequent them, too. 

Shopping local also helps me avoid the pitfalls of shopping online. I still have leftovers from my pandemic buying binge. Items would look so promising on the website, deliver a momentary thrill on arrival, but more often than not rot in the back of my closet. More recently, two online purchases arrived, one five sizes too large and the other one size too small. If I had shopped local, those items wouldn’t have even made it to the dressing room. 

A frequent bonus of shopping at small stores is their gift wrap. It spares me from rummaging through my bin for paper, ribbon and tag, but more importantly adds flair to even the simplest gift. My parents’ store was known for its black wrap with colored ribbon and a sprig of eucalyptus, and Jeanna has resurrected that style. “It just makes it feel elevated and like somebody took the time to put some thought into it,” she says.

Of course, one of the best reasons to shop local is to support the entrepreneurs who live in our community. I didn’t spend much time on the other side of the counter, but I have seen the dedication and creativity it takes to create an enjoyable shopping experience, from product selection to the layout of the store to the scent when you walk in. I am grateful to the people who supported our family by buying kikuyu bags and other treasures at Thee Foxes’ Trot for all those years, but it wasn’t charity. “People appreciate good design, things that aren't necessarily manufactured in bulk, things that are crafted with love,” Jeanna says. 

You might discover an appealing little shop just around the corner or a few miles up Pacific Coast Highway. It might be a little harder to park than at the mall. The merchandise or the hours might be less predictable. But supporting local retailers is a lot more satisfying than supporting the behemoths. Only by frequenting local establishments can we preserve the character that makes our area distinctive, not only to tourists but to us. So, this summer, ban the big box, ditch the department store, cut the chains and show the locals some love.  



Photo courtesy of Nok's Kitchen

“Nok’s Kitchen is located in an unassuming strip mall in Westminster but they serve the most comforting and delicious Laotian food,” Sarah says. “This used to be more of a hidden gem but they have (rightfully) received recognition from the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and OC Register in recent years. I am always overwhelmed by the menu because I have never had a bad dish here. Everything is beautifully presented on natural baskets with plenty of fresh herbs and lip-numbing vinegars for dipping. They are best known for Lao sausage, which I always include in my order, but the salmon larb and crispy rice salad are also favorites of mine.”





Photo courtesy of Sugar + Grain

A fresh-baked homemade cookie holds a deeper meaning — it evokes nostalgia for simpler times, fosters a sense of community and expresses love. For your next batch of homemade cookies, try the classics baked with love at Sugar + Grain. Pick up your order in Santa Ana or have treats like a box of chocolate chip, campfire, graham cracker, salted dark chocolate and celebration cookies delivered to your door. 




Photo courtesy of Sift Bakery

Whether it’s a birthday, anniversary or just because, cakes are the life of the party. Indulge your sweet tooth at Sift Bakery with a fun, creative cake custom-made for your celebration. But that’s not all — the bakery also whips up cookies, bundt cakes, loafs and cookie dough, with plenty of gluten-free options, too. 




Photo courtesy of Mercado Laguna

A grab-and-go grocery and gift store in Laguna Beach, Mercado offers ready-to-eat lunches, organic ready-to-cook meals and ingredients. The shop opened in May 2022 after owner Summer Tarango struggled to find healthy, easy meal options while fighting breast cancer. After joining forces with Molly Rossiettem from Hi Sweetheart, Mercado launched a fun party and gift section in addition to selling wares from small, local business owners. Produce from the Santa Monica Farmers Market and products from Laguna Baking Company are among the local favorites. Summer’s Table, which produces all the food for the store, also offers catering that you can have delivered, served or picked up in-store. 




Photo courtesy of Bird + Belle Shop

This home furnishings studio has a commitment to quality craftsmanship and ethically sourced materials. From pillows and other textiles to wall art, décor and accessories that reflects a blend on modern sophistication and classic charm, each piece in the curated collection brings luxury and effortless style. Initially an online-only platform, Bird + Belle now offers in-person shopping at two locations in Orange County, a vintage showroom inside Antique Depot in Old Town Orange and a retail storefront at Seaside Gallery & Goods in Newport Beach. 




Photo courtesy of Modern Ware Market

Timeless elegance meets modern minimalist at this home and lifestyle shop inside The OC Mix in Costa Mesa. Find a range of products designed to enhance your home, including textured vases, rich textiles like bed linens and towels, sturdy kitchen and dishware, and the perfect books to style your coffee table. Best of all, the goods are made to last while bringing a sense of harmony to your home.




Photo courtesy of Nuku Swim

Summer is here — dive in and make a splash with a fresh swimsuit. Sustainability meets swimwear at Nuku Swim, a woman-owned brand that makes every product locally in Orange County to ensure fair wages. The colorful tops and bottoms are not only stylish, they’re also made from recycled materials and packaged in a way that avoids single-use plastics. Order online or find Nuku Swim at local shops including Surfside and Purre Boutique in Costa Mesa.




Photo courtesy of Boy Cherie Jewelry

An outfit’s not complete without jewelry, whether it’s a subtle accent or a standout statement piece. Handmade in California, Boy Cherie offers gold-filled fashion jewelry that are on-trend and made to last. From delicate necklaces and statement earrings to bold bracelets and versatile accessories, the designs are as unique as the individuals who wear them. 




Photo courtesy of Slightly Choppy

Magic is made in a former boat shed in Newport, where Slightly Choppy creates handmade surf flags that pay tribute to California ocean locales. Fly flags from San Clemente, Capo Beach, Catalina and even the Wedge — each piece captures a bit of the surf community’s history and nostalgia and offers a celebration of coastal living.




Photo courtesy of Slightly Choppy

Browse thousands of record albums, 12-inch singles, 45s, CDs, cassettes, stickers, buttons, patches, and more at Costa Mesa’s go-to shop for vinyl. Owner Dave Noise has been an avid vinyl collector since 1979 and has a storied background in the music industry, including owning the independent record label Noise Noise Noise named after his original shop that was a local institution for 15 years. Factory Records buys, sells and trades all genres, with new product out daily. 


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