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Village shop offers seasonal goods ‘yule’ love

After Christmas, when the rest of us take down our trees and tinsel, some merry souls will begin to think about the next holiday season. It’s not elves we’re talking about but best friends Connie Krause and Karen Miller, co-owners of the local boutique Claremont Village Treasures.

Half of profits from the store, located at 141 Yale Ave., come from the sale of Christmas décor and gifts, which the women begin buying at gift shows each January. This year, they closed up shop well before Halloween, arranging a year’s worth of carefully amassed holiday goods for 10 days and nights before reopening as a winter wonderland on October 19.

They had 14 trees, a mantle and two airy rooms to deck with wreaths, garlands, lights and all things Christmas. They were up until 2 a.m. the night before their holiday debut, but the proprietors swear it’s worth it. 

“We turn our store into a full Christmas because our customers love it and bug us until we do it,” Ms. Krause said. “We have a lot of people come in and say, ‘I’ve had a tough day, but when I walk in here it makes me happy.’”

In the weeks since the spirit of Santa took over Claremont Village Treasures, the store’s stock has dwindled considerably. There is still plenty to dazzle shoppers, however, including nativity sets, pillows embroidered with seasonal slogans, Christmas ornaments, cards and candles plus holiday-themed T-shirts, cookie plates, soap dispensers, wine glasses, dish towels and figurines. Adding to shop’s cheer is the presence of Sophie, Ms. Miller’s snow-white poodle/Cavalier King Charles Spaniel mix, who is the store’s unofficial mascot.

Ms. Miller and Ms. Krause are proud to note that they are the only shop in Claremont selected to stock Mark Roberts’ whimsical collection of Christmas elves and fairies. They are also pleased to announce the launch of their own food line, Grandma’s Kitchen, including apple cider, soups, jellies and dips.

With all of this wall-to-wall festivity, you would never guess that it was a family tragedy that first spurred the friends to start a business. Nine years ago, Ms. Miller’s daughter Kimber Miller Clinton—an elementary school teacher with the Upland Unified School District—died of cancer, leaving behind twin 5-year-old boys.

Ms. Miller and Ms. Krause felt compelled to do something special in Kimber’s honor. The first two years after her death, they organized large fundraising walks, each of which garnered more than 1,000 books for Upland schoolchildren as well as money for the district’s intermediate schools and high school. The third year, they arranged a benefit at the Ontario Ice Rink, choosing the venue because Kimber had been an avid ice skater as a girl.

The following year, the friends looked a little further afoot, traveling to China in search of the perfect product to sell in Kimber’s name, with proceeds to benefit cancer research for children. The ladies found what they were looking for in the form of beaded evening purses reminiscent of the 1930s and ‘40s. On the same journey, they decided to set up a store, whether virtual or brick-and-mortar, in which to sell them.

Soon after, a space on First Street became available and Claremont Village Treasures was launched, featuring the Kimber’s Treasures line of purses plus home décor and gifts. From the start, Ms. Krause and Ms. Miller made sure to stock saluting acknowledging holidays like Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas in a big way.

In this, as in every season, reminders of Kimber are sprinkled throughout the store. These include ice skate ornaments and a felt reindeer dressed as a cheerleader, complete with pom-poms. The “little dear” wears red and green and has a U emblazoned on her sweater, reminiscent of the Upland High School cheerleading squad of which Kimber was a member.

“When we opened, we said we wanted to create the kind of store we would want to shop in,” Ms. Krause said.

The women admit that their timing was terrible, with the recession hitting “about a week later.” Like virtually ever other retailer, they experienced sluggish sales. As first-time business owners, however, Ms. Krause and Ms. Miller had no basis for comparison.

“Ignorance is bliss,” Ms. Krause laughed.

Business improved each year, growth the partners attribute to strong customer service and a mutual eye for the unique. 

“When we shop, if we both don't love it, we don’t buy it,” Ms. Krause said her.

Three years later, a spot opened up on Yale Avenue and Ms. Krause and Ms. Miller jumped at the opportunity to become fixtures on the Village’s main drag. 

“It’s like coming home again,” Ms. Miller said of doing business in the City of Trees. “Claremont is different and quaint. It reminds me of a little town back east.”

Ms. Krause grew up in Claremont, graduating from Claremont High School.  MS. Miller lived in Claremont until she was in third grade before moving to Pomona. They met as teenagers and reconnected when their sons were in soccer together. To this day, Ms. Krause’s son, Paul, 41, and Ms. Miller’s son, Todd, 42, are best friends. Of their long association, the women say simply: “We’re family. We do everything together.”  

It takes the proverbial village to help a business thrive, Ms. Krause emphasized. She is thankful for the many Claremont Village Treasures regulars, who have come to feel like family, and for the four “wonderful women” helping to tend the shop, her 84-year-old mother Gladys among them.

“She’s been with us since day-one. She can run circles around us,” Ms. Krause said.

She also attributes the store’s success to the tireless efforts of the Village Marketing Group, which each year organizes a growing number of customer-drawing events like the annual wine and beer walks.

“For us storeowners, the Village Marketing Group is the glue that holds us together,” Ms. Krause said.

Running a retail store takes untold amounts of work, Ms. Miller agreed. She notes the physicality of the job, particularly the box lifting and ladder climbing involved in making the store a holiday headquarters.

“It’s crazy, but it’s fun to see the end product,” she said. 

Ms. Krause took a moment to offer some advice to would-be entrepreneurs.

“You have to love what you’re doing. That’s the number-one most important thing,” she said. “If you don’t love it, you won’t be good at it.”

Claremont Village Treasures is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and stays open until 8 p.m. on Friday nights. For information, call 909-624-0407 or visit www.claremontvillagetreasures.com.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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