Business

A new evolution for Fox Paw

Owner Linda Allen with some of Fox Paw’s ever-exotic wares. - JULIE BUSCH photo
Owner Linda Allen with some of Fox Paw’s ever-exotic wares.
— image credit: JULIE BUSCH photo

It’s the same shop, just cozier environs.

Despite rumors to the contrary, Linda Allen didn’t close up shop and flee to her condo in Hawaii.

However, last summer, after nearly 28 years of Fox Paw in Winlsow Green, she seriously considered getting out of the retail business. Perhaps it was time to do something else.

Upon hearing this, Allen said, her customers had a “holy (expletive) fit.”

“They were okay with me going smaller,” said Allen, who has lived on Bainbridge for 35 years. “There was a lot of validation these past couple of months. If I closed last summer, I wouldn’t have been completing this in my way. I got through my meltdown because we do matter.”

While she pondered how to “re-own” her space and downsize, she discovered that Island Family Eyecare next door wanted to super-size. In what Allen considers a “meant to be” moment, she brokered a deal and closed for 10 days of renovation work earlier this winter.

What emerged was a lighter, brighter, more maneuverable space.

“Change is very jarring for people,” Allen said. “We have the same fixtures, desk and wrap station. We just moved it over and painted. Even though it’s all the same stuff, they’re agitated.”

The increased intimacy, Allen points out, brings customers and staff closer together. “This is my whole life,” Allen said. “It’s a place for creative expression and a place to connect with people.”

Fox Paw was a germ of an idea born to Allen in a booth on Fourth of July 1971 and at subsequent street fairs. She was doing interior design, lighting and quilting from her old house, which doubled as her then-husband’s dental practice.

On March 23, 1978, Allen opened Fox Paw in Lynwood Center, and the shop has been a veritable love fest ever since.

“Lynwood Center was a little left of center,” Allen recalled. “We were all crazy. I stood in overalls and clown shirts doing my own lighting. We opened the day the windows were delivered.”

After seven years there, Allen moved Fox Paw to Winslow Green, opening before the parking lot was paved. She spent nine years in that small space, then in the 1990s expanded the shop again and divorced. She had to run the business and the house by herself.

Having no children of her own, Allen considers Fox Paw “the child that is never leaving home and keeps bringing its friends home.”

Women and men are comfortable in the surroundings, which exude a tranquility that invites lingering over the carefully selected merchandise. The knowledgeable, yet unobtrusive staff adds to the shop’s appeal, as does the free signature gift wrap.

“The heart of the store, and the whole purpose of Fox Paw, is the book collection,” Allen said. “And enrichment and personal improvement are the focus of the books, which kindle or rekindle a connection to the customers’ higher self. It makes people think about who they are in the bigger picture.

“The books support that energy,” she said. “The rest is dress in cool clothes, use cool soap.”

Everything in Fox Paw is cool, from Allen’s own handmade art cards that combine her favorite inspirational quotations with photos of original paintings to the buttery leather journals, meltingly soft throws and pillows and locally produced beeswax candles. Every shelf and tabletop holds glorious treasures, arranged by section.

There are the thoughtfully chosen books and CDs; aromatic lotions, body sprays and massage oils; elegant champagne flutes; CDs; pride-of-place framed mirrors; museum-quality pens and Asian treasures; decadent truffles; and an array of captivating jewelry, romantic items and men and women’s apparel.

Many of Allen’s offerings have special meaning. Metal crickets are “a house blessing” for good luck and abundance. Jump ropes cry, “Jump into it. Jump with both feet. Life is for living.”

Customers who requested Allen’s card line in book form got what they wanted. The handsome volume, “God Is I Am,” is a collection of favorite inspirational quotes on “the nature of reality and man’s place in the universe.”

Allen is a woman of strong conviction and a consummate businessperson. She has a book buyer, an apparel buyer and a floor person. Everyone on her staff has her own duties. Allen knows exactly what works for Fox Paw and doesn’t deviate.

“We do the best of everything,” she said. “It’s how we are with our customers. How we present the product, how we gift wrap. That’s the kind of longstanding trust we have with our customers.”

Two longtime customers recently paused to chat. Alana Broom, a third-generation islander who remembers the store’s original small size, said people notice Fox Paw goods. A woman once walked up to her at the T&C, looked at her red leather bag and asked: “Is it a Coach? Is it a Dooney?” Next time, Allen said, “tell her it’s a Paw.”

Susan Nelson, another native islander, corroborated the story that men who ask what to get their wife or girlfriend for any event are told to go to Fox Paw.

“Women give their husbands permission to buy anything from Fox Paw,” Allen said. “And men have always loved Fox Paw. They come in for themselves by themselves.”

Fox Paw is “where the product connects to its owner. Our job is to sit there in the middle. We present it so that people can find it.”

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