Sue Graham says the secret to keeping a gift shop open for 35 years is simple: just follow the “golden rule.”
Graham says she made it her mission to treat others the way she would like to be treated when she started Oakhurst Giftworks with her husband, Randy Graham, on Fourth of July weekend in 1983. The store originally shared its building with her husband’s business, Oakhurst Frameworks.
“The community is what keeps us in business. You take care of the people who take care of you,” Graham says.
Thursday, July 12, the Oakhurst Chamber of Commerce will celebrate that 35-year connection with the community when it brings its monthly mixer to Oakhurst Giftworks from 5-7 p.m.
“It validates my existence. It means that they care that I’m here,” Graham says of the celebration.
Oakhurst Giftworks carries just about anything you could imagine: hot sauce, greeting cards, books, antiques and wind chimes, to name a few. And Graham says she does all she can to keep it reasonably priced.
Taking care of the community goes beyond competitive prices for Graham – although that does play a role. For her, the care is manifested through conversation, relationship and the atmosphere of the store. Ideally, she would like it to feel like a “home away from home.”
Graham welcomes her customers with a friendly greeting that usually develops into a talk about work, family or whatever else may be on their minds. She knows many customers by name and she gets a number of regular customers from as far as Fresno.
“It’s what I do for fun. It’s my hobby,” she says.
Graham’s philosophy has kept her store thriving in the face of retail and online shopping giants like Walmart and Amazon. An era labeled the “retail apocalypse” saw 6,700 retail stores close last year, reported CNN, but Graham’s store has survived.
She says the more-corporate options do not provide the “ambiance” that an independently owned store like hers does.
“It’s just a very enjoyable place to be, to come in on a cold winter day and have a cup of coffee and sit for a little bit,” says Debi Arredondo, who has voluntarily helped Graham around the store for over a year now.
But it takes more than kindness to stay in business 35 years, Graham says. “I’m here every single day, whether it’s snowing, or raining, or the power is out. You have to show up.”
The store is only closed four days a year: Mother’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. The other 361 days, you can usually find Graham behind the register.
She also makes her presence felt outside of the store’s walls, donating to organizations such as the Soroptimist of the Sierras, the Oakhurst Sierra Rotary Club and several schools in the area.
Graham’s efforts have helped her grow Giftworks. The store was originally about 1,500 square feet and now is at 6,000 after the last expansion in 2008. The expansions eventually led to Oakhurst Frameworks moving to a separate location.
In spite of such success, Graham has remained humble, says Sherry Colgate, 76, a Giftworks customer all 35 years. “Sometimes when someone is as successful as she is, or at least as successful as I perceive her to be, they lose a little something. She hasn’t lost any of that humility over the years.”
Graham is fully aware that she could not do this alone. She has graciously accepted help from anyone that would offer it. Volunteers and part-time workers help the store function, her customers keep coming back and she has even developed a friendly relationship with her competition.
Graham teams up with a number of the antique and gift shops in Oakhurst to put together printed advertisements in “Mountain Menus and More.” She says this creates a sense of camaraderie between the shops and helps keep the community working together.
These methods instill a great sense of confidence in Graham about her store. She says she has never feared the store closing, and she never plans to be afraid.
“They’re probably going to have to bury me here,” Graham says jokingly.