Unique shop opens in Spring Lake Park

A boutique featuring many one-of-a-kind, eclectic gift items has opened in Spring Lake Park.

Sundahl artfully displays her inventory in a creative manner. Photo by Elyse Kaner

Sundahl artfully displays her inventory in a creative manner. Photo by Elyse Kaner

Sophie’s Choice, located in a building adjoining Nelson’s Cheese shop just off of University and 83rd avenues, opened for business in early March.

“There’s a lot of whimsy in here,” said shop proprietor Susan Sundahl, sitting on a flower-designed wicker settee overlooking the bright and cheery store with a southwestern exposure for welcoming sunlight.

The shop, however, is not named after the classic book or movie of the same title. Instead, it is named after Sundahl’s 8-year-old yellow Labrador. Sundahl had thought of many names in the beginning, but the Sophie idea kept resurfacing. So Sophie’s Choice it was.

The shop is run by Sundahl and one part-time sales employee. Occasionally, Sundahl’s daughter, Natalie, helps out.

Sophie’s Choice
Ladies accessories, cards, gifts, candies, art and consignment items
Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday
10 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday.
351 83rd Ave. N.E., Spring Lake Park
For more infomation, visit www.sophieschoice.biz or call 612-590-5544

When three new customers recently visited the boutique and walked away with gift bags in hand and vowing to tell their friends about the new shop, it validated Sundahl’s prowess for selecting unique gift items. She has found her niche.

Honey bonbons

Formerly Nelson’s Romantic Floral, the 1,400 square-foot retail shop located at 351 83rd Ave. N.E. is artfully arranged with wares ranging from ladies fashion accessories and cards to quality consignments, to locally produced artwork and candies.

Honey bonbons and chocolate fudge, for instance. Customers receive a free sample of the candies for the asking.

Sundahl also sells Poparoons. The gluten-free delicacies, a combination of chocolate and macaroons, made by Lily Bloom’s Kitchen in Fridley, are shaped like lollipops.

Unique jelly jars line a display area. Blue Hawaiian, merlot, white zinfundel or root beer jellies, to name a few. There’s even a new beer flavor and dark beer jelly.

Giftwise, hand-made mosaic jewelry frames, aprons for gardeners with pockets for their utensils and hand-painted wine glasses are but a few of the many unique items. Freshly cut flowers enhance the shop’s displays. Sundahl sells purses, scarves, jewelry, linens and gifts for little girls. Minnesota-made gift baskets are also available. You’ll not find shoes, clothes or hats in this shop.

Seniors receive a 10 percent discount on Wednesdays. Teacher appreciation days, when teachers receive a discount, are the second and fourth Friday of the month.

Creative inventory

Sundahl speaks of her store as an uncluttered shopping experience in a relaxing environment.

Dainty flowers fashioned from rich-colored duck tape or a belt buckle with the words “I kiss my dog on the lips,” speak volumes of her creative inventory.

A back room is reserved for gently-used consignment items. Sundahl is fastidious about the scarves, jewelry and purses she accepts for the room. They must appear as good as new. Only upscale, quality items, Sundahl says.

Prices for shop items range any where from $1 for the children’s goods on up. Some of the original art pieces go for $600. The average purchase per customer is about $26, according to Sundahl.

Community building is especially important to Sundahl. She plans to open her shop to small community gatherings of 20 or less. (Reservations must be made two weeks in advance.)

Also, she plans to open a tea room in May at the shop in what is now her candy display area.

New digs

Before moving in, Sundahl and her family in a community effort renovated the shop. Sophie’s Choice has newly decorated inner walls, partitions and flooring. Sundahl drew inspiration on the layout and displays for the shop from her many visits to western European boutiques. Boutiques which she says are a pleasure to walk into.

Startup costs for the leased-shop, including renovations and merchandise, was about $17,000, Sundahl said. Costs were financed with personal funds and a family loan.

Sundahl shopped for sales for the flooring materials and more.

“I pulled it together by bits and pieces,” she said of her sunny shop’s interior.

Renovation took three months.

Sundahl looked for a spot for her shop for two years before settling on Spring Lake Park, conveniently located just off of University Avenue and a few blocks west of Central Avenue. She also looked for and found a shop on one level with a large window for natural lighting.

A survivor

Sundahl is now a Shoreview resident. Formerly, she had lived in Coon Rapids for about 20 years.

A self-described eclectic in love with life, Sundahl is a survivor in more ways than one.

A native of suburban Philadelphia, Pa., her first job was working at Bell of Pennsylvania and later Northwestern Bell phone companies as a facilities specialist. She met Rick, her husband of 32 years, while in Houston, Texas. She later became a realtor in Anoka County, a job in which she remained for 26 years. But after so many years in the same career, she felt it was time for a change, she said. She next took a job based out of Newark, N.J., as a flight attendant for Continental Express airlines. After breaking her elbow, she left the flying industry.

Still, Sundahl had always dreamed of opening a boutique. She would shop for her friends while on Europe trips. She held home parties selling items she brought back from her travels to such countries as Italy, France, Germany and Spain.

“I loved the hunt so decided to research this buying side,” Sundahl explains on her website.

She soon outgrew space in a store room in her home, so after much research, she decided to go the retail route. A real shop, with a real space.

She started small

Sundahl first set up shop for two years in a small, leased five- by seven-foot space at Hair by Hughes, a full-service salon in Spring Lake Park. Next, she located at another small leased space also in a hair salon in Silver Lake Pointe, apartments for seniors in Mounds View.

“She’s got a heart of gold,” said Debby Gallegos, salon proprietor at the seniors facility and now good friend of Sundahl.

“She marked $5 off (on gift purchases) to accommodate the seniors,” Gallegos said.

But Sundahl not only survived and navigated her job changes, she is also a breast cancer survivor. In September 2010, she underwent a double mastectomy. She is doing well, she says. Case in point: her 10-hour work days, doing something she loves.

“It’s very important for people to know there is life after cancer,” she says.

Hooked up to a bluetooth earpiece to answer phone calls at the ready, Sundahl says creativity, perfection and good service are what drives her.

She rings up sales of the three shoppers. They leave toting gift bags. They are awash in smiles.

Sundahl bids them goodbye, calling them by their first names. They promise they will return. Especially when the tea room opens.

“The expression of it and having it appreciated,” Sundahl says about her customers and their favorable comments. “It validates me. It tells me I’m on the right track.”

Elyse Kaner is at elyse.kaner@ecm-inc.com

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