BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Peachtree Place, celebrating its 33rd anniversary this month, provides presence for your present purchasing. Even on a recent snowy April morning, it was a delight to say no to virtual shopping and actually touch and see a selection of gorgeous possibilities, then leave with a beautifully wrapped package. I visited Peachtree’s vibrant founder, Lucy Callahan, to ask for tips on gift giving and entertaining—and to wish this cordial entrepreneur Happy Anniversary.
From one room and two part-time employees in 1985, Lucy now offers 11 connected spaces in a mall just off the 94 Expressway featuring comprehensive luxury items, whether your style is formal, contemporary, transitional, or modern.
Little Peach carries gifts and clothing for little ones, while yet another room combines gift cards and wedding invitations, and every colorful paper accent you can imagine.
As South Carolina-born Lucy leads you from room to room with the grace of a Southern hostess, you observe her enduring enthusiasm. She stops at a table of Londoner William Yeoward’s crystal, designed to replicate the 18th century patterns he adores, and admits this room, resplendent in china and crystal, might just be her favorite.
What’s the reason for Lucy’s longevity in the retail? “Luxury implies the best of the best, whether the price tag is large or small, and that’s what we have always been about. We display Clara Williams fine jewelry close to whimsical earrings featuring flamingos: serious pleasures with girlfriend gifts nearby,” she explains.
Lucy has been known to pick up customers at the train station, to allow people to take large paintings home on approval, and proudly states that children who first walked into Peachtree with their mothers as toddlers years ago are now picking out their wedding invitations there. Although she offers an online bridal registry and has a strong social media presence, Lucy reminds a shopper I met on my recent Peachtree visit of Marshall Field’s in its heyday:
“That was the carriage trade’s destination for everything, be it getting your silver cleaned, storing your fur, or buying everything from toilet paper to luxury goods. Peachtree doesn’t do all those things, of course, but people like to feel that they have a place that’s theirs. And that’s Peachtree.”
We asked Lucy how she got started in retail.
“I was always a shopper and loved beautiful things. My husband Jack and I had moved to the area from Atlanta because of his job, and I had been working at Kraft. One day I had just finished an exercise class at a mall and noticed that a storefront was vacant. My husband said, ‘Go for it.’
“I have, and we are very fortunate to have, great parking, fun restaurants nearby, and other shops to visit. Many people come out from Chicago and make a day of it.”
Who better than Lucy to ask for entertaining tips:
What makes a terrific looking table if you don’t want to always be spending large amounts for floral centerpieces?
Everyone should have a good set of white china. By using different colors for placemats and napkins, you can create a bright new look. Try using a salad plate on top of the white china that’s in a pattern—amazing what a little thing like that can do.
Candles are great but never put scented candles on the table—they interfere with the aroma of the meal.
Look around your home with a creative eye for clever centerpieces such as little Herend pieces, oriental boxes, or the like. In the South people grow camellias to enjoy in centerpieces and here hydrangeas are always terrific in summertime if you choose to use flowers.
What do you think defines a gracious hostess?
A gracious hostess makes everyone feel at home and very special to her. Choosing compatible guests is key. A home cooked meal is no longer a requisite. Whether you are ordering from a caterer or a grocery store, a beautiful table is what guests notice, not the food.
Before we know it, June weddings will be here. What makes for a great wedding present?
It is very important that we work with the bride as she fills out her registry. Many brides don’t register for enough items, and givers are crushed when they see that everything is sold out. Many mothers forbid their daughters to register for very expensive things. They also say that no one uses their silver, but I use mine. Mothers might also say: ‘Don’t put that on the list, we have one in the basement,’ but who knows?
Brides should remember that this is their last big gift gathering. In working with a store rather than just going online to register, a bride can expand her imagination and take things to the next step.
We have two types of customers: one who is thrilled that you have the registry and then the one who says she ‘wants to go rogue.’ I have found presents selected that aren’t on the registry are most often returned for exchange.
When a shopper asks if it is ok to buy just one $245 glass, I remind her how much the bride loves those glasses and that getting them one at a time is just perfect. People can also go in together on a more expensive piece.
What are good hostess gifts?
In the old days, a bag of potpourri was what everyone gave to a hostess. An aromatic room diffuser, a beautiful candle, and practical things like a cutting board and little knife are popular now.
What colors are important today in table and home décor?
Gray is a big deal. We are fortunate to have vendors who are on top of all the latest trends. Pale pinks and pale lilacs are in vogue—colors often start with clothes and translate into décor. There are still lines in jewel tones, but vivid colors now seem to be used more for accents rather than wall coverings.
If you are just starting the path of home decorating, what advice might you follow?
If you are transitioning from a starter home or apartment, remember that if you buy things you love and they are good things, you will love them just as much 20 years from now. Using family antiques is wonderful—something that I found prevalent in the South—and you can update then with fabrics and lamps.
What are the traits necessary for a person wanting to open their own store?
You can’t be an absentee landlord—you have to be there. I love the quote: ‘If you don’t mind your business, you won’t have a business to mind.’
You need to know your clients: who’s having a baby or who could use a little tenderness. Other traits include patience and the ability to not show your own feelings. And, of course, know how to hire people that your customers will like. I don’t mind the Steel Magnolia description of myself at all.
And start small—grow your store over time.
With online shopping an easy option for all, why leave your house to shop for gifts?
Being able to see and touch something is a luxury. Often, if you are feeling a little blue, a sure cure is to walk into a place with happy choices all around. Many people don’t like doing online returns, as well.
Whether you buy a $10 item or a much more expensive one, everything is beautifully wrapped. We have had $500 rolls of paper and find that using very lush papers and ribbons is something our customers love. It is an instant gratification.
Lucy’s vibrant hospitality is a significant reason for Peachtree’s place in customer’s hearts. In the early days, Lucy was bookkeeper, buyer, greeter, clerk, and window dresser all in one. Today Peachtree has 26 employees. Lucy still is at the store daily, except when she is traveling with husband Jack. She attends the major gift shows, including those in New York, Atlanta, and Dallas.
Does Lucy herself still love to shop? “When I buy something for the store and tell myself I’d love to take that home, I now wait a couple of months. If it still is calling my name, it will find its way home with me.”