Bibelot marks 50 years in business this fall.
Roxy Freese opened the first shop in St. Paul in 1966, at a time when she said there weren’t many women business owners. She opened using $10,000 in savings and a loan the bank required to be cosigned by her father. Even after the business proved viable, she said her father still needed to cosign operating loans.
“It’s difficult to imagine,” she said. “The sales reps, almost all were men.”
Her daughter, Joan Arbisi Little, said Freese was a pioneer in offering health insurance and 401(k) packages for full-time employees.
She also pioneered the concept of a lifestyle store, Arbisi Little said. There was a time when Target buyers purchased one of everything on the shelf, with similar merchandise later appearing on Target shelves.
Staff have known Freese to host “wonderful” holiday parties, and throw pizza parties while they process boxes of new holiday merchandise.
The Northeast shop opened at 23 University Ave. SE in 2002.
Freese has noticed that buying habits have changed over time. The 70s and 80s were “absolutely fabulous,” while 2008 was “devastating,” she said. While winter holiday merchandise remains popular, summer holidays and Halloween have become less busy.
Freese has always required her buyers to work on the sales floor incognito.
Longtime buyer Peggy Merrill (Freese provided shelf space for her craft rings when she was a little girl) said she chooses eccentric, fun merchandise that match Freese’s museum-quality taste.
Merchandise marked as Bibelot “classics” have been around for decades, including origami peace cranes, Thymes fragrances and Boards by Joel (a second-generation business that uses scrap wood from Minnesota).
The French name Bibelot refers to a “most precious object.”
“Somehow, Bibelot is something that touches people,” Freese said. “…It has been a very precious experience to many people, especially those that grew up in it.”
Bibelot is marking the anniversary with weekly gift card drawings and a storewide sale Sept. 16-18.