NEW PORT RICHEY — Karen LeGault knows everything about the thousands of products that line the shelves, walls and tables of her 1,800-square-foot gift shop. She peruses trade magazines to read up on popular styles and comes up with a game plan for her two annual trips to trade shows in Atlanta. At the shows, LeGault hobnobs with the makers of china, handbags, confections and figurines, learning their stories.
She knows that the founder of a line of Christmas caroling dolls started out by making them for family members out of clay and locks of her son's hair. She knows that Sanders Chocolates used to make a dessert with a scoop of ice cream between two halves of a cream puff, topped with its signature gooey hot fudge. She knows where all of her products are manufactured and is proud to say that the majority are American-made.
LeGault's shop, Karen's Gifts, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, and is gearing up to host an annual Christmas Open House on Nov. 10. The event features sales representatives, giveaways and refreshments, and the store will be decorated with four Christmas trees, lights and a bounty of other Christmas items.
In years past, patrons have been lined up outside the Grand Boulevard shop waiting for LeGault to open the doors. She expects about 200 people will attend this year.
"(The shop) is just decorated so beautifully, it's wonderful to walk through," LeGault said.
Karen's Gifts first became a part of downtown New Port Richey in 1996, occupying one storefront at 6232 Grand Blvd., in the spot that was Pasco Hardware in the 1920s. LeGault kept the store's original wood flooring, which she says is a rare pine that can no longer be purchased. Later, as the two neighboring shops closed, LeGault expanded to three interconnected storefronts.
Patrons enter to find sparkling chandeliers and an inviting swirl of classical music and soft fragrance — a combination which, LeGault says, prompted one customer to refer to it as "an oasis." The first room features candles, lotions, greeting cards, hot fudge, chocolates and purses. The second room LeGault calls the "bear room," and it overflows with stuffed animals and year-round holiday decor. The third room is LeGault's favorite, "the lace room," filled with china, artwork, tea and table runners.
LeGault and her husband, Ed, are high school sweethearts who have been married 61 years, and, LeGault jokes, "we're still speaking." They opened the shop five years after retiring to Florida. The LeGaults both worked at Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, Mich., Karen taking a job as a secretary right out of high school, and Ed joining her at the company after a stint in the Navy and in construction work.
Retirement was too boring for LeGault, and soon she opened up the first iteration of her shop, then called Silk Flowers and Gifts, in Charles Dickens Plaza on State Road 54. LeGault held floral arrangement classes, teaching her students how to arrange wreaths, centerpieces and custom arrangements with silk flowers. The shop moved a couple more times, to a different plaza on SR 54, then to the corner of Ridge Road and Little Road, then finally to the present location. As some of LeGault's fine motor skills diminished, the shop shifted its emphasis. Silk Flowers and Gifts became Karen's Gifts.
LeGault is known for her personal touch, giftwrapping customers' purchases and befriending all who walk through the doors.
"We have people that have been coming to us for years," she said. "They've followed us from one location to the other and it's been really nice. They've become more friends than customers. We get birthday cards and everything."
Though Ed has suggested retirement, Karen isn't ready to close up shop just yet.
"I have the best of all worlds," she said. "I have nice people to talk to, beautiful things to look at and a reason to get up in the morning."