By Maddy Vitale
When shoppers walk into Stainton’s, the iconic former department store in Ocean City, which was transformed into a co-op six years ago, they don’t find just one store, but 70 specialty shops.
As the Christmas shopping season gets underway, the co-op is promoting its stores to local shoppers as the one-stop way to buy gifts that are unique and affordable.
“We are a co-op of 70 merchants. There is something for everyone here,” Bridget Buchanan, Stainton’s director of operations, said while greeting customers and giving a tour of the shops Monday. “These shops are owned by people who have small businesses in this store.”
Buchanan, who lives in Ventnor Heights and is an Ocean City High School graduate, recalled when her family used to take her to Stainton’s. When she got the opportunity to manage the co-op in May, she jumped at the chance.
The former manager at Tanger Outlets in Atlantic City, who comes with 20 years of retail, merchandising and management experience, says she wants people to know that this is not the old Stainton’s.
“I was doing great where I was, but I realized I could help over here with my knowledge,” Buchanan said. “I’m not just helping Stainton’s, but I’m helping the vendors grow and promote the shops.”
For one thing, she is emphasizing that Stainton’s is no longer a department store and hasn’t been for some time.
There are booths filled with accessories from scarves to school back packs. Handmade Christmas ornaments and popular holiday figurines, wood carvings, even crafts made out of horseshoes, make up some of the shops. Fine artwork hangs on the walls in some of the shops. Handbags, children’s clothing, toys, books and upscale women’s clothing are also sold in the stores.
“At Stainton’s, you will find unique, specialty, one-of-a-kind items that you won’t find anywhere else. You know when you get a gift for someone here it has more meaning,” Buchanan said.
The shopping experience at Stainton’s takes the place of a mall or big-box retailer, she pointed out.
“I want to reach out to the surrounding area, so they don’t go to the mall. They should go to Ocean City. There is nothing more beautiful than downtown Ocean City with the lights throughout the holidays. It is a wonderful town,” she said.
One of the ways she is promoting the shops is through “Wish List Wednesday,” geared toward local customers. From 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. people may come in and create a list of items they would like from a loved one and leave it with Stainton’s. Then the loved one could come in and check out the list.
The co-op features some of the well-established names of the Ocean City business community, including The Cricket Box, which was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, that have relocated to Stainton’s.
Bill and Lois Maguire, of Newtown, Pa., who also have a vacation home in Ocean City, own the Cricket Box. The landmark store features Ocean City-related merchandise and a wide assortment of LED pictures and holiday figurines.
“We started at Stainton’s with one booth in December of 2012. Our shop was destroyed by the storm. Now we have seven booths and a wall at Stainton’s,” Bill Maguire said. “Stainton’s has been a very good opportunity for us. We could have gone to another place like Stainton’s, but no other place has the quality of Stainton’s. Everyone in there has pride in what they bring in to sell.”
The Maguires are well-stocked. Some of the other businesses in the co-op are smaller. That is the beauty of Stainton’s, Bill Maguire said.
It offers merchandise that smaller businesses can showcase, along with well-established businesses. The community gets a taste of a variety of items.
“Because of Stainton’s size, it has something for everyone. It used to be men would stand outside when we had our own shop,” Bill Maguire said. “But in Stainton’s, they come in. There is just so much in one building, we have things to satisfy everyone and the price is right.”
The most important aspect of the co-op for the Maguires is simple: “Stainton’s vendors are not corporations,” Bill Maguire said. “We are families.”
A steady stream of shoppers walked through the doors Monday morning and perused the booths.
Marceda Grillo, of Northfield, stops into Stainton’s a few times a year for gift-giving.
She glanced at a few vintage-style metal signs with advertising logos and slogans.
“I’m looking at the signs and some jewelry today,” Grillo said. “I like it here because they have really different, unique stuff.”
Friends Joyce Himmelberger and Lynn Wood, both of Egg Harbor Township, browsed at Stainton’s Monday morning and stopped in “Bird’s Eye View” to look at some upscale clothing and baubles.
“I grew up in Ocean City and had a nursery school here for years,” Himmelberger said. “I love Ocean City. I love Stainton’s. It is much different than it was when I lived here. There are so many unique items.”
Both Himmelberger and Wood said they enjoy the transformation Stainton’s has gone through over the years.
The friends filled two shopping baskets with candles, ornaments and crafts.
“There is something for everyone in the family here,” Wood said.
Stainton’s is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. On Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays until Christmas, hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. For more information visit www.staintons.com or call 609-545-8688.