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If you pay close attention, this Q&A could help you check every. single. holiday gift off your list. We chatted with Julie Horowitz, owner of Bucktown gift shop Virtu, to get the behind-the-scenes scoop on owning the store—and to see if she had any ideas for pressies this season. And, holy Reindeer, did she ever.
We counted: the woman who only wishes she had a "good pair of curly elf shoes" gave us more than 25 ideas for gifts, all available locally. From sparkly nail-polish stocking stuffers to sleek bread boards—and a suggestion for a great Chicago skate shop—this list jingles with variety. Got your list, a cup of cocoa, and a sharp pencil handy? Then dig in.
People seem to react strongly to seeing holiday merchandise set out too soon. When it is "okay" to start rolling out the goods?
We like to enjoy our holidays at Virtu one at a time. Once Halloween is over, the season of giving begins—whether you're looking for a hostess gift, a teacher's gift, or something for yourself. We kicked off the holidays with our annual Winter Wonderland event with Snow & Graham on November 9, and let customers see the full collection of seasonal offerings from our favorite local stationer. A week or so later, our trees go up and the elfin' magic begins.
When do you start playing holiday music in the store, and what's on the soundtrack this year?
While I love holiday classics, you will never catch them in rotation until after Thanksgiving. We rock everything from a little Christmas in Hollis to She & Him, The Nutcracker and the beloved Bing & Bowie. It depends on who gets to Spotify first. Michael Bublé might happen if [store staffer] Justin is around.
What kinds of candles or other scents do you use to get the store in the holiday spirit?
I'm not a big fan of walking into a wall of vanilla fragrance. I prefer a little smoky cedar or amber and pine. You'll find Crash Candles' Pine Cone lit in our window as often as we can. You can also find it on our shelves, along with dozens of other [scents.] We love these soy candles because they're locally made, and each one burns for 50 hours.
What makes you, personally, giddy about this time of year?
I shop all year-round with our customers in mind. I like to keep an eye out for one-of-a-kind pieces that might add to or complete a guest's jewelry collection, in particular. It's like a giant game of Cinderella. We find the right ring for the right hand, with a little help from our customer's wish lists. I love making wishes come true. I'm dying for a good pair of curly elf shoes and striped tights.
What are some of the gift trends this holiday season?
Our guests are very creative in their gift-giving, and like to curate a collection of goodies that provides a shared experience. For example, they may pick up a pair of Laura Zindel pine-cone mugs with some Vosges Haut-Chocolat hot cocoa. Or, they may get a selection of recipe cards along with a set of Beehive Kitchenware's sweet spoons and copper cookie mold. Some shop by color, some by theme.
What do you have in your holiday inventory that you're personally swooning over?
Our jewelry collection has grown by an entire case this year. Folks seem to love our Instagrams of Jamie Joseph and Arik Kastan rings—each one is exceptional, and one-of- a-kind. Our local jeweler, Dana Rebecca, is poised to be the sparkler of the season with stacks and layers of diamond pavé. And, I am loving Tracey Tanner's leather pouches and tassels, which have these vibrant hues and textured shimmers. Oooh, and stockings everywhere will be stuffed with our butterLondon nail lacquers. Talk about sparkly! Have you seen the Stratford Honey Overcoat? So good.
What are some holiday classics you carry every year?
I always say I would not be a store without Beth Mueller's sweet ceramics. This season, we've helped her design a series of exclusive ornaments featuring some favorite Chicago icons. Vosges Haut Chocolat plays a significant role in our can't-live-without, got-to-have-it- wrapped-right-now items, along with Snow & Graham's calendar editions, cards, and holiday wraps. Cocktail parties never seem to be complete without one of our signature Ed Wohl cheese and breadboards or a set of modern-twist coasters. In the realm of one-for-me, Orla Kiely's totes always seem to make shopping just a little easier and a Chan Luu cashmere scarf will keep the chill away as you're heading down Damen Avenue. And that Anne Sportun labradorite wrap bracelet would be the perfect piece for a holiday party.
Does your store offer gift-wrapping? If so, how do you doll up packages?
Since the day we opened our store almost thirteen years ago, we have always sent you on your merry way, wrapped and ready to go. Why would we leave it up to you when you have so much to take care of in a busy holiday season? Guests can expect a signature violet ribbon and tissue with our kraft packaging. For boxes that contain tiny treasures, a band of holiday wrap makes its way around the box, with a coordinating bow.
What trends do you anticipate about holiday shopping in general this year?
I think this season is the year of the big gift. So many of our customers are mindful of their environment, careful not to collect tschotske, but rather something they have coveted from the jewelry shelves. While we're stocked with all sorts of things for the gift-and-ornament exchanges, I think a great number of our most thoughtful purchases will be from the jewelry collection.
Apart from Virtu, where in Chicago do you shop for holiday gifts?
This is a tough one. Because I shop year-round for my own store, I constantly find things for friends and loved ones. I'm not so good at keeping a secret when I've found just the right thing. Come holiday time, I tend to gift an experience with friends. We have so many great restaurants in our neighborhood—Red Door, The Bristol, Hot Chocolate and Le Bouchon—I'm apt to take a friend to dinner or send them out for the night while I watch the kids. I feel goofy gifting from my own store all the time and I never get out to shop others.
On the rare occasion that I need to fill in a gift, I'll head to the Red Balloon or Building Blocks toys to celebrate our friends' kids. For my own [kids], that's easy. I just hit up the guys at Uprise skate shop on Milwaukee. Done. And then I get a moment to enjoy a glass of wine with the husby.
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· All Holiday 2013 Coverage [Racked Chicago]