Meet Your Merchant | Engineer’s creative pursuit becomes Kings Beach business
July 31, 2013
TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — "You might want to come up here," was the first thing store owner Barbara Van Maren heard when she answered a call from Jiffy's Pizza. It was the manager — both businesses were flooded due to a thunderstorm and a misdirected drain trench.
Barbara said she rushed to Tahoe from the Bay Area to find her gift shop "flooded in through the back door with a whole layer of soot."
The store owner packed her merchandise and cleaned the unexpected mess. She found a new location for Sugar Pine Gifts shortly after.
Sugar Pine is located on North Lake Boulevard just across from Lake Tahoe in Kings Beach. Barbara said the new location brings much more foot traffic and tourists.
"I needed to move, so it was a great thing," Barbara said, looking back. "This space is twice the size."
Space is what was needed because Barbara's shop overflows with gifts and art, souvenirs and home décor pieces. Tourists from all over the world are thrilled to find beach toys and postcards, locally made candles or lotions.
"She has a unique sense of display," said employee Kathy Davisson. "There is a lot of stuff in the store and she has a knack for putting stuff together."
A CREATIVE PURSUIT
Barbara has always had a creative side. A civil engineer by trade, her creative hobbies kept her sane. Candle making, cake decorating and weaving were among her pursuits.
Sugar Pine Gifts came to be many years before, at a florist in Barbara's then-hometown of Oakland. The engineer decided to take wreath-making classes.
"I was up to my ear in engineering then," Barbara said. "It was a side hobby and fun to do."
Barbara began selling her wreaths at craft fairs and four years ago opened Sugar Pine.
"I sell sugar pine cones and have sugar pines in my backyard," Barbara said of the inspiration for her shop's name. Her handmade wreaths can be found throughout the store, varying according to the season.
SOLD ON BEARS
Barbara said Sugar Pine is "not just a souvenir shop, but everything."
She recently expanded the kitchen section to include more aprons and towels, cookie cutters and antique plates. Barbara estimates 20 percent of her store is antiques.
"I have the old and the new," she said. "It's a great mix."
The biggest seller in Sugar Pine, however, is bear merchandise.
"I sell more bear things than anything," Barbara said.
Her personal favorite is Hugs Bear, a large stuffed animal with weighted arms that hangs on its owner as if giving a hug.
Kathy Davisson used to own Mountain Critters in Tahoe City and now works with Barbara at Sugar Pine. As tourists buy bear merchandise, Kathy enjoys educating and spreading awareness about the bears in the area. She volunteers at the BEAR League and is extensively knowledgeable.
"When we were little kids, what did we have?" Kathy said. "Teddy bears. It's a gift to be able to see them and what is more appropriate than something of the lake or a bear?"
Alice Shaw's bear artwork decorates the walls of Sugar Pine. Alice is from Northern California and recalls when she began painting bears.
"They started coming into my house, one just walked right by," she said.
Many years ago Alice was in the bathtub when a bear came through her yard, the bear's "golden fur and fat jiggled as she walked."
Always a painter of nature, Alice said after the incident "she was smitten. They take over you. I don't really want to draw anything else."
Sugar Pine Gifts is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. The store is located in downtown Kings Beach.
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