We interviewed boutique owner, Susan Johnson, of Ideas and Objects in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on her style advice, on staying true to classic style with unique twists and how “trendy” isn’t always what the customer needs, her store’s top 3 “go-to” items that are must-haves for any parent this fall, and a smart way to keep your kiddo’s lunch pail fresh and cool.
IDEAS and OBJECTS
252 Strawberry Square
Harrisburg, PA 17101
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1. Tell us the inspiration behind starting your shop?
Susan: Having worked for years in the visual merchandising and store design arena, I recognized a missing venue for contemporary “neat stuff.” IDEAS and OBJECTS was born In 1987 when I decided to try my hand at the ownership of a specialty shop featuring unique objects with BOTH contemporary form and great function for work and play, for young and old. This platform soon expanded to include some wearables for women and children. Here I am, nearly 24 years later, in a larger shop in the same building and the current merchandise mix is nearly 50/50 as to wearables and “objects.”
2. Give us the inside scoop about any special events that you have planned for Labor Day Weekend or back-to-school, especially the fun deals we can expect.
Susan: At IDEAS and OBJECTS the holiday weekend is not a high traffic weekend. We have discovered that here in central Pennsylvania this weekend (and when I say weekend, I mean Saturday since we are in a city center that is closed on Sundays and Holidays) is one when our customers tend to grab hold of one of the last outdoor event celebrations of the summer season. As to back-to school and fun deals…Unlike the mass market merchants, our best deal is ongoing in the UNIQUE lines of quality fashions we offer and the seasonal timeliness of our wardrobing choices. And when it comes to fun, I like to think that it is ALWAYS FUN to shop our little store of wonders!!!
3. Back-to-school is just around the corner – what are 3 trends you can tell parents to look for when buying their kids’ wardrobe?
Susan: Looks like leggings and tunics are a strong trend, but some say that plaids may be finding a renewed appeal (although I am not convinced the youth think it is so, and I hear about a surprising fondness for the 70’s influence remaining). Of course the proverbial tees and jeans are still all too popular from my point of view. As in season’s past, we do not fit well into the “trendy” shoppers world, other than the fact that we do have delicious tunics and legging sets!! I have always shopped the market determined not to sell something just because the media is intent on dictating it as a “must have.” I do lean towards the bold and contemporary colors and patterns, but the lines and items I choose are based first on QUALITY, second on UNIQUENESS AND STYLE, and then PRICE.
4. Please tell us 1 easy tip or snack/meal for a child’s back-to-school lunchbox.
Susan: My parental favorite was always “lunch money” back in the days when buying a school lunch meant a hot CAFETERIA MEAL, rather than pizza, candy and soda “food court” selections. Have to admit my lunch packing was rather ho-hum except for a little note or an unexpected sweet treat from time to time. I do like insulated lunch ”boxes” so that veggies and dip, mayo dressings and or salads, etc. stay cool. So my tip for a COOL lunch would be that when you are including a drink, try buying smaller plastic bottles of water or juice and put them in the freezer the night before. Partially frozen, they will be thawed before lunchtime and will also act as an ice pack even in an un-insulated lunch carrier.
5. Tell us…before you “had kids or grandkids, what is one thing you swore you’d never…?” Please share!
Susan: Reply with “BECAUSE I SAID SO!!!” to any question they may ask. I will admit I failed in keeping this vow to myself. And come to think of it, my daughter probably regrets my shortcoming even more than I do.
6. What is your top selling 3 “go-to” items at your store currently?
Susan: Rabbitmoon and Le Top are always favorites, with extra applause for the boy/girl brother and sister groups! Grandparents are especially excited when we give them a call that we have something to “match” for their sibling or cousin grans. The fuchsia fleece jackets by Mack & Co are getting many “oohs and ahhhhhs” and the cordy plush from Jellycat and the Zolo line of creative playthings remain strong staples.
7. Describe the neighborhood of your store location in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Did you grow up in the local area?
Susan: IDEAS and OBJECTS is located in Strawberry Square, a mixed use city center in downtown Harrisburg. The center adjoins the Hilton Hotel and we are but a stone’s throw from the state capitol complex. I grew up about an hour from Harrisburg in a small (population 1,000 or so when I grew up) rural Lancaster County town, Terre Hill. I was the oldest of 4 girls and although we did not have extensive wardrobes or many shopping trips, that which we had was most often bought in family owned specialty shops!
8. Tell us about a “special” moment that made your day working at your store.
Susan: There have been so many…and the highlights truly have nothing to do with large sales. My best moments are the personal ones that convince me that we are a people, not just a business at IDEAS and OBJECTS. The thank you notes, the photos, the tales of good and bad, its the people moments that make it all worthwhile. Not so long ago a college-aged student came into my store and was just beaming as she looked around. She was between trains (Amtrak is a block away) and came to Strawberry Square to see if the shop was still here. She had moved away over 10 years ago, but had fond memories of her mother bringing her to the shop. As I and the shop grow older, it is good to be reminded that we are part of a family of customers with good memories.
9. Where are the best/essential family hangouts and places to go around your store location?
Susan: Our neighborhood’s best include the Whitaker Center, that is home to an IMAX theatre, Science Center and Performance Theater and Gamut Theatre, home of the Popcorn Hat Players wonderful children’s theatre.
10. What Le Top or rabbitmoon Fall 2011 collection is your store’s favorite and why?
Susan: The bold color of the Le Top’s Pizzazz collection “big dot” group makes me smile, while the current customer favorite is the Harmony collection from rabbitmoon.
IDEAS and OBJECTS
252 Strawberry Square
Harrisburg, PA 17101
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IDEAS and OBJECTS Facebook page
and click HERE