By Babs Rodriguez and Meda Kessler
Photos by Ron Jenkins
There are people who can help with that.
Prim & Proper
Melanie Jones thinks a lot about the ritual of gift giving. A graduate of the University of Southern California with a degree in international relations and global marketing, Jones put a cherry on top of her education by attending the Parsons School of Design in New York City. She returned to Fort Worth to work with her mom, Alyce Jones, owner of Adair Eyewear, and 10 years ago opened Prim & Proper next door to re-create the small, customer-forward gift shops she had enjoyed in New York. Inventory reflected who she was at the time: girlfriend gifts and things for pups. “I remember someone suggested bringing in toys because, you know, people have babies.” Toys came in when her son was born seven years ago, but today the gift inventory is dwindling. What dominates the space is wrapping paper. That is because Jones fell in love with what was initially incidental inventory. “I always loved paper, and I buy from small businesses I want to support, but early out I realized that it wasn’t selling on its own. So, I begin wrapping gifts as a service.” That decision changed the course of the business. Today Prim & Proper is transitioning into Properly Wrapped, a shop totally dedicated to the presentation of gifts that clients bring in. Don’t expect a quick in and out. Most customers discuss the gift and choices for its presentation, then pick it up the next day. During the holidays, the to-be-wrapped ranks grow quickly, and Melanie calls in the carefully trained associates who understand that matching the intention behind the gift translates into artful wrapping. “When opening a gift, there is a moment created. You should tangibly feel there was effort behind it,” Melanie says. The clients she has come to know trust her to intuit which paper — from handmade marbleized and vintage-look holiday classics to modern geometrics and bright florals — best represents them. She talks others through the choices, which include ribbons and styles of bows. Every gift is boxed (or double-boxed to give no hints) and nested in tissue that is precisely folded to created four flaps to be opened in a methodical reveal. “It’s another way of enshrining the moment of giving. I feel fortunate to be a part of the anticipation they want to create; that is a gift to me.”
The intimate Fort Worth boutique is tucked behind a coffee shop, the subtle signage not visible until you drive by. But once inside, you find yourself lingering as you check out jewelry, candles, kids toys, ceramics, paper goods and self-care products. And it smells as good as it looks. Years of work travel helped Miller hone her eye for unique items, talented craftsmen and other small businesses. She left the corporate world to open Gifted about a year and a half ago. (Her mother is an artist, and occasionally you’ll spot her hand-dyed scarves or paintings in the boutique.) We talked about giving and getting; she said giving is a lot better, and she wants to help her clients enjoy the process, too. The goal is to avoid the last-minute, buy-whatever-is-available frenzy that happens to so many of us during the holidays. “You want to focus on who’s getting the gift. I’ll find out as much as I can about what they do, what they like.” Miller admits her generation grew up with quantity over quality, but feels that has shifted, especially for her personally. “I want things to have a purpose and a good story behind it. I want to know a bit about the maker or the company. I want to buy better and buy less. It’s how I shop for the store and for myself.” When she travels now, she typically buys a locally made ceramic piece and coffee. She admits she’s hard to shop for and gives her husband a short list. “I don’t love surprises,” she says with a laugh. “And I’m not opposed to gift cards.” Complimentary wrapping at Gifted, of course, is an option, and Miller has several paper and bow options. While she eschews traditional holiday colors and patterns, special touches include sealing wax along with natural items such as pinecones and sprigs of pine.
Mary Kate Piotrowski
Good Gift Delivered
Former Four Seasons spa director Mary Kate Piotrowski connected the dots between a degree in hospitality and a love of shopping with her online company, Good Gift Delivered. But first, she scored degrees from the University of Tennessee in French and international business. “I was dismayed to discover being a nomad was not a profession,” she says, laughing. Post-baccalaureate studies in international hospitality in Arizona — her childhood home was Flagstaff — resulted in recruitment by the luxe hotel chain, where her focus tightened. “At Four Seasons, the spas act as the hotel’s retail outlets. It was fun to find gifty items and little treasures people would want to bring home as memories.” After she landed at the hotel’s Austin property, she met and married filmmaker Chad Mathews, who was hired as executive director of Fort Worth’s Lone Star Film Festival two years ago. Joining him in Cowtown, Piotrowski was tapped by the festival as a gift concierge of sorts. When she couldn’t find the sort of unique products in beautiful packaging she sought, Good Gift Delivered was born. Themed boxes are filled with desirable mashups of spa products, clever books, toys, indulgences and artisanal finds. She is looking to source more gifts locally, but customers sometimes arrive at her website from spots as far-flung as Australia and Vietnam, purchasing gifts for delivery throughout the U.S. (Good Gift does not yet deliver internationally.) Curated collections for babies, newlyweds, cooks and hosts are popular, but gifters can peruse the site’s offerings and create something more customized. All can be done on the website, but Piotrowski also makes herself available to chat with clients. An admitted shopaholic, she does a lot of personal shopping for corporate clients, too. Local delivery includes an option for fresh flowers, which Piotrowski sources and arranges. “Gift giving is like a game, finding the delights that make both the giver and the recipient feel good — for me, that’s like solving a puzzle.” She says finding the uniquely right gift shows someone that you really thought about them — and the time spent doing that is the greatest gift. “It’s like a dialogue. The giver sends the present that says, ‘I see you, I know you,’ and when the person opens it, they think, ‘What a good gift.’ To me, that’s the magic.”