Something for Everyone
Located in the charming 9th and 9th area in the heart of Salt Lake City, The Children’s Hour has found its happy place. “We’ve moved four times within this neighborhood, each time into a bigger store. I say this is our last store because it’s big and we love it here,” said owner Diane Etherington.
The family business started 31 years ago as a children’s bookstore but has grown into a unique boutique for women and children. “When I moved here from San Francisco, I couldn’t believe there was no bookstore for children’s books,” Etherington said. “So we started one!”
Expanding beyond just books came somewhat out of necessity, as Barnes and Noble expanded its presence in Salt Lake City with three locations. Etherington knew her store needed to set itself apart. “We started carrying (children’s) gifts and toys,” she said. “Then, I decided to add cute sweaters for the moms, and that’s when the women’s clothing, shoes and accessories took off.” Next came gifts and books geared toward non-children readers, as well as kitchen items and home décor.
“The products we carry are well-made and timeless. Because of our commitment to quality, we are the only store in the state of Utah to carry certain high-end lines,” Etherington explained. Today, the women’s clothing section has something for everyone and every age, including dresses anywhere from $60 to $600. “I try hard to have things for all pocketbooks.”
While the selection of gifts and clothing is impressive, the Children’s Hour’s primary focus always has been and always will be children’s books. Etherington is passionate about curating a selection of inspiring books for all of her shoppers. “I read every book that comes into this store,” she said. “I would never want someone to buy a book from me and be disappointed.”
The 3,000-square-foot store is arranged in little pockets, mostly by age group. The tween area contains books, shoes, jewelry and gifts. The little girls’ area, sizes 2-6x, has clothing, shoes, dolls and books. The baby girl and baby boy areas have baby clothing and baby gifts. There is also a kitchen area, a toy and book area down the middle of the store and a big table by the front door that welcomes shoppers with a mix of seasonal books and gifts. On the women’s side of the store is a huge shoe area. Cubbies hold sweaters except for the random china displays, which do very well interspersed with the fashions. Large antique armoires feature gifts and home décor displays throughout the store.
One of the most effective displays for the store are the special window boxes seen from outside. Etherington has a designer who changes these custom-made box displays every two weeks. These displays are in prime view of patrons of the popular next-door restaurant as they wait for a table. Smitten, they often come back during the day to shop.
Local Shopping Culture
The 9th and 9th area, named for the intersecting E. Ninth Street and S. 900 East, has seen a revival in the 31 years Etherington has owned her store. Salt Lake City has invested heavily in the area and it has slowly evolved into a hip and artistic neighborhood. The major improvements, which include art installations and landscaping have lured a younger demographic to the area. People are moving into the renovated buildings, transforming it from a utilitarian service and retail area 30 years ago into a retail and residential area complete with 15 restaurants.
“It has been fun to watch it happen,” said Etherington. “People who live in the neighborhood feel compelled to shop where they live.”
“As a neighborhood, we have a great merchants’ association that is very active with banners, an annual street fair and shop-local activities,” she added.
The popular Halloween trick-or-treating event, which is something her fellow neighborhood retailers all participate in, drives a lot of traffic to her store in the fall. A new event they are trying is a bloggers’ shopping night. She is inviting some high-profile Utah-based lifestyle and parenting bloggers to the store for an evening of socializing and shopping, with the hopes that they will share their experience on their blogs.
While the holidays and Easter are especially busy, traffic in the store stays consistent except for the first two weeks of January and July. That’s when any big projects are planned.
What is her biggest challenge is also Etherington’s greatest asset. Finding the perfect employees is hard for her because she says it takes a special kind of person to be well-versed in the plethora of products they offer. Her perfect employee loves to read, is confidant enough to make a wide variety of customers happy, and has a warm, welcoming spirit. So many of her great employees start out as college students and stay with her until they graduate or get married and move on. But since they love working there so much they stay in touch and come back and help out during busy times.
The store has 10 employees, as well as Etherington’s four grown daughters who have grown up in business and help out on occasion.
“I care so much about the kind of service we offer our customers,” she said. “That is why it is so important to have great employees. Having a staff that likes each other and is happy is a must.”
“There is a happy spirit in this store,” she said. “It’s a special feeling customers get when they come in. I want them to leave feeling better than when they came in. We have happy people working here and they make sure that everyone feels welcome and happy.”