In 1966 a fine arts major named Roxy Freese opened the first Bibelot shop in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul.
How to describe the pioneering vision for Bibelot? “Treasures are found in every corner of the store,” ventures Sarah Franklin, marketing manager for Bibelot and a 15-year veteran of Freese’s team. “You can get your [greeting] cards. You can pick up paper products for your party. You can pick up a piece of jewelry that might be Minnesota-made.” There was never a formula, just an intuitive mix of attractive products. Bibelot proved its success by adding three additional locations, each with a slightly different feel to match the neighborhood.
Freese inspired a second generation of gift emporia, some launched by former employees. “Patina is a lot like us,” allows Franklin. Many think the two are cutthroat competitors. Both make convenient pit stops before parties and weddings. Both are locally sited in high-income ‘hoods. Patina co-founder Rick Haase worked for Freese before launching his business in 1993.
Haase declined to discuss Patina in any detail. So we asked customers, many of whom shop both stores regularly. “I have thought about this topic before,” says Cassie Noll, of Minneapolis, a 36-year-old marketing manager and a fastidious gift-giver. “The biggest difference is age. Bibelot is definitely geared to women over 40.” Noll pointed to the store’s selection of “arty-hippie” clothes and nostalgic spread of holiday ornaments.
Patina is younger and edgier, continues Noll. Decked out with velvet pillows and paper lanterns, their brighter, airier storefronts are candy-colored compared to the anodyne scenes at Bibelot. “They have things Bibelot wouldn’t even think of carrying,” says Noll, citing the risqué refrigerator magnets and bacon-flavored chewing gum. She shops Patina for hip friends and for herself, because she prefers their selection of bigger, bolder jewelry.
“They don’t overlap, but both of them have really good things,” concludes Noll. “Other towns don’t have stores like this. We’re lucky to have two.”