By DAVID JONES
Editor at Large
UNIQUE GIFTS: Canterbury Lane offers a unique selection of gifts throughout the year. Currently, Halloween items are displayed for shoppers, and Christmas is right around the corner.
SHARON CAMERON for GTR Newspapers
Robin Benesh loves her commercial empire, all 1,035 square feet of it. Her gift shop, Canterbury Lane, is tucked neatly into a corner of the Shops of Seville on the northeast corner of East 101st Street and Yale Avenue. It has turned out exactly as she wanted it, a small and friendly place where customers can feel unhurried and get exactly the gift they want from a sales staff trained to give maximum support. It’s an old-fashioned shop where the regulars are greeted by name and a stranger is made to feel comfortable at once. “A lot of people like the human contact,” says Benesh, “so we make sure we take the time to give it to them.”
It’s a store she obviously enjoys enormously, but ironically it was born out of a sense of loss. “My mother was a vibrant, beautiful woman who taught me as a child how to wrap beautiful packages and make bows. Then she got Alzheimer’s disease and I watched this lovely person fading away. I started making bows as a form of therapy, I guess, and gradually the idea of a gift shop came to me.”
She was not new to business. A graduate of the University of Oklahoma with a finance degree, she and her husband had worked for years with her father and mother in their office equipment store. “We emphasized taking care of our customers after the sale,” she says. In time, she and her husband acquired the business which is now called Copier and Computer Systems of Oklahoma and they operate it together. Later Benesh began dabbling in gifts by renting a small space in The Market. The success from that led her to thinking about setting up her own gift shop.
“I decided on the Shops of Seville because it was close to my house and it just seemed like a perfect location. The Bistro is a fine restaurant, Java Dave’s is just across the street and Donna’s with upscale clothing is nearby. They were the kind of establishments I thought were a perfect complement to a gift shop.” She chose a corner location because she loved having windows on two sides. When she first entered the empty space, she thought it was huge. “I wondered how we were going to fill it all.” Now it is filled from floor to ceiling with items from soaps to salsas waiting for customers who want the extraordinary.
“I’ve gone to markets in Dallas, Las Vegas, Indianapolis and New York City looking for unusual items for my customers. You have to be careful because sometimes a line will have only one item you want but the company has a $500 minimum purchase policy. You don’t want to be overstocked with the one item. Some gift stores take every item a supplier will offer but I try to be selective, so I often pick up just one or two things from a company.” She also gives her husband a lot of credit for the shop’s success. “He’s very business savvy; he’s a good anchor for me.”
The shop filled up quickly. Not only is it filled floor to ceiling but she has four or five storage units (depending on the season) filled with merchandise waiting to be displayed. Some of the displays change with the seasons and right now she is in the middle of one of her favorite holidays; her store is loaded with whimsical Halloween items. “Christmas is, of course, our busiest season but Halloween has now moved to second. We have a lot of fun items and it’s the kind of holiday where people don’t buy because they feel they have to, like Christmas, but because they want to.” In the fourth quarter, she will load up on food items. “With Thanksgiving and Christmas parties, people are always looking for something a little unusual. We try to provide it.”
Another thing she provides is what got her started thinking about a gift shop in the first place, free wrapping. “We do all our wrapping for free and we take a lot of care with it. We put our name on our packages and I love it when a person comes in and says, ‘I live in midtown and don’t usually come to south Tulsa but I got your package and I just had to see what the shop looked liked.’ We’ve had a number of people do that.”
A gift shop like hers, Benesh says, is always hostage to the weather. “For three weeks in February people couldn’t get to us because of the ice. We’re not a necessary destination like a grocery store. Then in the summer, the heat kept people away.” But now all is right; the weather is excellent and Halloween is just around the corner. Things couldn’t be better in Benesh’s realm and she welcomes her customers with a warm smile and generous help with making their purchases.