Evelyn and Harriette’s gift shop celebrates 20th anniversary

There’s a unique pleasure in finding the perfect gift.

It’s a sense of satisfaction that Stuart Kern, 84, knows well — he’s spent more than 20 years scouring the globe for timeless treasures.

His gift shop, Evelyn and Harriette’s, Oley, is the product of that hunt.

The store’s shelves are lined with curios — traditional clothing, artwork, ceramics, cards, jewelry, puzzles, toys and more — all different, but sharing a similar quality.

“A lot of it (giftware) is based on gimmicks or trends. We avoid that,” Kern said. “We concentrate on things that have a lasting value.”

Unlike big box retailers that focus on volume sales, Evelyn and Harriette’s gets its wares from small producers and artisans often overlooked by the whims of mass consumer preference, Kern said.

Evelyn and Harriette’s celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2022. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

“We deal directly with a lot of these manufactures,” Kern said. “Some of them we know personally. We like them because of their quality; they take pride in what they produce, they’re not just cranking out volume.”

He said half the fun of being in the business is the search: going to trade shows and tracking down items in person.

“We do very little buying online because we want to see the product, we want to see the quality, we want to know the story behind it,” Kern said. “If an item doesn’t have a story behind it — where it’s from and what it’s about — well, then it’s just stuff. We don’t sell stuff.”

Kern’s giftware philosophy stems from the tastes of the shop’s namesakes: Evelyn Choquette and Harriette Chamberlain, mothers of Kern and his wife, Annesley, who co-owns the shop.

“Both ladies liked nicer things and were working on a budget, so they had to find nice things that weren’t expensive,” Kern said.

Evelyn and Hariette's is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The gift shop is named for the owners' mothers. (BILL UHRICH - READING EAGLE)Evelyn and Harriette’s has been celebrating its recent 20th anniversary. The gift shop is named for the owners’ mothers. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

The store started when an old boiler house behind the Kerns’ prior manufacturing business was opened as a showroom for furniture.

“Of course if you’re going to show a table you need something on it — tablecloths, candleholders, things like that…next thing you know we had enough items for a gift shop,” Kern said.

The showroom officially transitioned to a gift shop on Nov. 1, 2001.

“Evelyn was 94 when we opened the doors, she’d been retailing her whole life so she loved the place,” Kern noted. “She’d go down there and keep shop.”

Upholding tradition is another motivating factor for Kern; he said the store often sells items that become family heirlooms.

“We even hear back from people whose parents gave them something in 2008, and they’re in our store saying, ‘My parents gave me this and it’s how I remember them,’” Kern said.

Securing their niche in the giftware scene has also given Evelyn and Harriette’s leeway to track down certain items for their customers.

He said one customer was on a cruise in Denmark and came across a rack of postcards so beautiful they never forgot them.

“We followed that one up, and as far as I know we’re the only store in the U.S. that has this line of postcards,” Kern said.

Among the store’s other unique offerings are a line of artisan-made Polish pottery, as well as hand-woven scarves and hats from Mucros Weavers in Ireland.

Evelyn and Hariette's is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Polish pottery has been popular at the gift shop. (BILL UHRICH - READING EAGLE)Polish pottery has been popular at Evelyn and Harriette’s gift shop in Oley. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

“Some of the scarves are made on looms over 200 years old,” Kern said. “People just love them because the quality exceeds anything else that’s on the market around here.”

Toys, too, hold a special place in the Kerns’ hearts — and on Evelyn and Harriette’s shelves.

Kern said he believes that play is learning, and if a toy does the playing for a child, then nothing is gained.

“We’re stealing creativity and imagination from youngsters,” Kern said. “It used to be they sat down and stacked up a bunch of blocks, and the blocks fell over and they learned something and stacked them differently.”

To keep that creativity alive, Kern says his shop offers toys that encourage hands-on play, including STEM kits that function without buttons to push or batteries, and alphabet blocks in 26 different languages.

Customers also thirst for that underlying sense of tactile discovery, Kern said.

He said the need to experience a product in person is why stores like Evelyn and Harriette’s are successful, even in the age of one-click ordering.

“I think we’re seeing some reaction to it (online retail),” Kern said, “people saying, ‘Wait, that (product) isn’t what I thought it was.’ They come out to a store like us, and they can pick something up and look at it, smell it, whatever you want.”

Kern said he hopes to continue running Evelyn and Harriette’s for as long as he’s physically able.

“I’m not one of those people that wants to build something and chuck it in a landfill,” Kern said. “A truly meaningful gift is one that says, ‘You are special,’ and we strive to be the source for those special, meaningful, quality gifts.”

Evelyn and Hariette's is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. (BILL UHRICH - READING EAGLE)Evelyn and Harriette’s recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

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