Regina Gifts greets the season with garlands of red, green and gold framing its Mass. Ave. door. Window shoppers find a tranquil manger of the holy family, silvery snowflakes suspended midair and jolly elf dolls on display. The storefront windows brim with a bevy of gifts and holiday décor sure to bring cheer to both customers and passers-by. For co-owner Marlene Gormley, dressing the windows for Christmas and each holiday and season is one of the joys as shopkeeper.
“I just love my business. This is what we do,” she says from behind the circular counter. “We display items for you to be able to look at in the nicest way. We try to be cheery – it’s important.”
Story and photos by Aileen Maroney
While sticking price tags on pouches containing gold mini-crucifix pins, Gormley traces the store’s family business back three generations to Norwood, where the first Regina Gifts opened 60 years ago.
Her grandfather, Henry Sr., and father, Henry Jr., embarked on the business after deciding to close the Kleuber Farm, family’s poultry business in Concord. Instead of selling eggs and capons, they invested in retailing gifts on Norwood’s Washington Street. “My grandfather felt it would be a good idea to go into gifts,” she explains.
The family, hailing from Concord, grew up attending St. Bernard’s Church together, and when it came to choosing a name for the store, Gormley’s grandfather turned to his faith for inspiration.
“We are Catholic, and my grandfather was a very devout Catholic,” Gormley says. He loved the Blessed Mother, and when we were naming the store, he felt as though he would like to name the store after the Blessed Mother, Regina.”
Helped out as a youngster
As a kid, Gormley began helping out at the family business in small ways.
“It was fun. It was like a field trip going to the store on a Saturday with my Dad and Grandpa,” she says.
As a teen, she and her sister Margaret began to work part time at the shop. She learned the ropes of running the family business bottom up, starting with dusting and vacuuming before running with customers, calculating change in her head and ringing sales on the register.
“I learned everything soup to nuts from my father and grandfather,” says Gormley.
After college and pursuing other jobs, Gormley decided she wanted to return to Regina Gifts. Her husband, Duncan, joined the family business as well. After the couple moved to Arlington, they aspired to open a second Regina Gifts, in town, and established a shop across from Town Hall, renting the space for a decade before moving to the present location at 918 Mass. Ave.
“We were renting and always wanted to own a building, so we had to wait until a building became available, and this is why we’re here. This is the building that was available to us to buy,” says Gormley.
Opened here in 1978
Thirty-eight years ago, when Regina Gifts initially opened in Arlington, the Gormley’s stocked the shelves with collectibles. Over the years, the gift selection grew to include one-of-a-kind gifts.
“We started with people buying collectible items, but that weaned off,” reflects Gormley. “We try very hard to accommodate everybody’s taste, and we like to be a little diversified. We don’t want to be known as just a collectible store.”
Throughout the year, the co-owners — Gormley, her husband and her mother, Anne Kleuber, scout unique gifts for the shop and for their second location, in Melrose, poring through catalogs and attending a few gift trade shows.
“We are always looking for something different that you don’t see in a lot of places,” she says. “We try to be a little bit unique and different in our ideas and for people that are shopping, we would like you to come in and say, ‘Oh, I don’t see that everywhere.’”
Walking the shop’s aisles appeases the senses. Cozy light emanates from the plugged in flowered teacup and dragonfly nightlights. A purple paisley infinity scarf is soft and soothing to the touch.
The shop carries Crabtree & Evelyn, Camille Beckman and other lines in pretty scents of lemon basil, lavender, French vanilla and more. Gifts come from near and far. Local artist P.J. Szufnarowki’s framed art catches the eye through the store. Her displayed prints range from warming scenes of the Longfellow Bridge and a Charles River sailboat to the Scituate Lighthouse. Imports include delicate Belleek shamrock candlesticks and Waterford crystal ring holders.
Baby gifts big seller
Staying attuned to customers’ needs and lifestyles is key to Regina Gifts’ success and longevity.
“We used to sell a lot of China,” she says. “China is not in people’s minds anymore. Entertaining is a bit different. People don’t set a formal table as much anymore. They are really setting more of a casual table. Things have changed. We have evolved and that is why we have stayed in business for 60 years. We are constantly trying to get what people are looking for.”
These days Regina Gifts caters to the demand for baby gifts, as in photo at left.
“Baby gifts are our biggest seller, both baptism and general gifts,” says Gormley.
The shelves abound in items for baby’s arrival. For baptisms, there are lace baptismal bibs and bonnets as well as sterling silver bracelets with delicate crucifix and St. Mary charms.
One can find starter porcelain shoe-shaped banks, hardcovers of classics, such as Make Way for Ducklings and Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit art on child-sized cups, plates and bowls. For the nursery, gifts include a plush baby mat shaped as a giraffe, a fleece security blanket, a singing stuffed elephant toy and décor relating to perennial fave characters from The Wizard of Oz and Winnie the Pooh.
True to their namesake, Regina Gifts contains a corner of the shop devoted to religious gifts from nurse prayer cards and mother of pearl rosaries to brass crosses holy water fonts and St. Christopher medals. A sign taped to the front door lets customers know that St. Joseph’s statues, a consistent bestseller, are stocked inside.
“The St. Joseph statue is very important for people selling houses and people looking for houses, for real estate agents and those with a new home. St Joseph is the carpenter and that is why he is related to buying or selling a house,” explains Gormley.
Regarding the shop’s array of collectibles, Gormley points to one of the most popular lines in the shop — Willow Tree, carved figurines that often express a life experience or convey emotions of hope, love and healing.
“Willow Tree is big,” she says. “It is very affordable and very much what people are looking for whether it is a little celebration or a little something to give something. The little card that the figurine comes with says it all.”
For the season, there are also plenty of yuletide gifts from poinsettia serving trays, and snowflake trivets to a woven runner depicting a wreathed Irish cottage by the seaside under a starlit sky. There are also baby’s first Christmas ornaments in pink and blue, snow globes encasing winter wonderlands of snowmen and snowcapped pines and a selection of book titles from the 12 Days of Christmas Cookbook to a devotional treasury inspired from the Christmas carol.
Village of Christmas revelers
Caroling rosy-cheeked figurines by Byer’s Choice cluster on a shelf to create a village of Christmas revelers. Hand-crafted in a Pennsylvania workshop, the figurines clad in holiday finery, often carry in their arms Christmas cheer whether it is a candy cane, silver bells, a French horn, an apple wreath, gingerbread house, sleigh, toy train, sheet music, candles or holly and ivy.
“The collectibles are modeled to old English. They are American made and all hand-produced,” says Gormley. “They are lovely figures that people like to pair up and put out during the holidays. It is an easy decoration. It is also a nice gift to give a couple that is getting married. They can put it out every year. “
Regina Gifts’ Nativity sets consistently sell through Advent, Christmas and every season.
“We sell a lot of nativities year round, not just on the holidays,” says Gormley. “The Fontanini mangers are our biggest seller out of the mangers. They are from Italy, and they do not break, which also makes them perfect for families with little ones. You can also add a piece to the manger each year which is nice.”
Whether on an under $10 budget or higher, Gormley strives to make her stock affordable for all. As a bonus for the customer, the shop will gift wrap items on request at the counter.
“We do the gift wrap for you, and we try to keep our prices reasonable all year round. We are not waiting for a particular time of the year to put a sale on. We are always trying to price it properly I don’t inflate my prices to discount it, and that’s what a lot of people do.”
The shop can also readily engrave merchandise of metallic material.
“We do a lot of engraving, especially baby cups and spoons,” she says. “It is a lovely way to personalize a gift.”
The customers remain the best part of the job for Gormley.
“We have people coming here as long as we have been in Arlington, 38 years,” she reflects, smiling. “I have seen families, and I have seen babies, and I have seen them grow to young adults, get married and have their own babies. I do a lot of business like that. They are all friends. They become part of the Regina family.”
This feature story by YourArlington freelancer Aileen Maroney was published Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016.
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