"I was never unhappy to come to work one day over fourteen years," Gale Bohan says of her time at Kid Wishes. The store, which opened in 1997, will be closing its doors at the end of April. Like at many other specialty stores, business has been getting slower and slower for the past three years. But while the store itself will be closing, Bohnan is continuing the work that inspired her to open her shop in the first place: personalizing wooden stepstools, rocking chairs, and other objects for children.
Both an educator and artist by training, Bohan worked in Branford schools as an aid, often personalizing items for the teachers. She became so busy personalizing materials for the classrooms that her sister suggested she open a store. Kid Wishes opened in the smallest store in the 566 Main Street building, but soon outgrew its space, eventually moving into the largest space in the row (which had been the location of until 1999). In the fourteen years the store has been in business, Bohan has been actively involved in the lives of her customers, providing everything from books to personalized beach chairs to frogs for children of all ages.
"It's such a nice relationship that I've had with all of these great people," Bohan says of her involvement in the community. "A lot of people, grandmothers especially, will start with a rocking chair for one grandchild, so they have to continue the tradition." That means that many of Bohan's customers have returned for several children in the same family – and usually for several birthdays for each child. For those regulars, the store closing is "heartbreaking" – a word often repeated in conversations Bohan has with her customers. Several of her young customers have asked what they can do to help keep the store open, which only makes the decision to close harder.
But though Bohan has been trying to wait out the slump in sales, she realized over the Christmas holidays that she sold half of what she'd sold in 2009. People did shop at the store over the holidays, but would get an idea of what they were looking for by browsing, then end up making their purchases online, where they could spend less money. Bohan understands how tight finances are for everyone and doesn't begrudge anyone looking for a cheaper price. "People have to," she says. "Unfortunately that just means they also lose out later" when .
But though the Internet can be a huge factor in reducing local traffic in specialty stores, it also provides the opportunity for Bohan to continue creating the personalized items that have made Kid Wishes special to her customers. Bohan will continue to sell personalized items, from banks to book ends, from her website at Kidwishes.com and on her Etsy store. She expects to offer both shipping and home delivery for her local customers, and she is happy to take orders via phone at 203-804-2941. Though she may not see children browsing her shelves, she will still be able to be a part of the history of growing up: each item she personalizes has a message on it, a birth date or occasion, the name of the gift giver, and a note to the child who receives it. "Everyone should have that history," Bohan says, and she's enjoyed helping to give people those memories.
Kids will also be delighted to hear that Bohan is continuing to sell live frogs from her site. She began selling frogs in the store in 2008 after seeing them in a gift show. The quirky pets eat twice a week and only need their homes cleaned every three months, making them an easy pet to care for and, in Bohan's opinion, soothing to watch. A shipment of frogs arrived at the beginning of April, so browsers will still be able to see them in the store until closing.
Everything in the store is currently 30 percent off. Bohan anticipates a steeper discount as the closing date nears, but notes that much of her stock is selling quickly. Store hours for Kid Wishes remain 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, until the closing date at the end of April.