Shop Around the Corner: Never the same store twice, Raffia Gifts offers a wide variety of unique gift ideas — as well as a personal touch
By Trent Modglin
141 N. Northwest Highway in Uptown Park Ridge
The history: Emily Larson, born and raised in Park Ridge, is the second owner of Raffia Gifts. She was a shopper first, then an employee for two years at its former Prospect location and then, seven years ago, she bought the store in its current location on Northwest Highway in Uptown.
While Emily has expanded some brands, especially in the baby and child section, she’s also remained focused on keeping alive the themes that have worked well for so many years and made Raffia a staple in Park Ridge.
At first glance: This is a cozy, beautiful store that welcomes you in with lots of colors, bright lighting, big windows overlooking Northwest Highway, and some wonderfully intoxicating smells.
“People always comment on the smells in here,” owner Emily Larson says with a laugh. “I’ve been asked, ‘What’s that smell, and can I bottle it?’”
There are plenty of items to catch your eye — in every corner and shelf — so be prepared to do a few laps to take it all in.
“Come and talk handbags with me,” owner Emily Larson says. “It’s my weakness… and my strength.”
What you’ll find: Expect a wide range of gift ideas at Raffia. You’re sure to find that perfect gift… even if it’s for yourself. Lotions, soaps, perfumes, candles, jewelry, stationary, frames, tabletop items, wall art and a nice section for kids that includes children’s clothing, books, stuffed animals and plates.
And don’t forget handbags, which might be Emily’s specialty. Hammitt handbags, in particular, are quire popular right now. “Come and talk handbags with me,” she says. “It’s my weakness… and my strength.”
A love of retail: Never the same store twice, Raffia sees a regular influx of new items often. “We don’t like going from store to store and seeing a lot of the same items,” Emily says, “and we take pride in being able to allow our customers to knock out a lot of unique gifts in one place, and provide a personal touch.”
The customer service doesn’t just end with assistance navigating the store. Emily has also helped customers design full rooms and decorate fireplace mantles. She and her mom take an annual trip to a huge retail convention in Atlanta, and she recently brought in new lines of jewelry she discovered on a trip to Florida. In other words, she’s always on the lookout.
“I believe in my products,” Emily adds. “I wouldn’t carry something that I wouldn’t buy myself.”
“We take pride in being able to allow our customers to knock out a lot of unique gifts in one place, and provide a personal touch.”
Keeping it local: The Dishique brand is from a Park Ridge resident who makes the hand-drawn Park Ridge items exclusively for Raffia. They also carry Chicago-centric coasters and plates, and most items they put on the shelves are made in the U.S.
Going online: Raffia has a great online presence, and it’s worth noting that some items are available via the website before making it to the shelves. Make sure to join Raffia’s email list to get an early look at new merchandise and advance notice of upcoming sales.
Keep an eye out for… an expanded children’s section and kitchenware. “We have a lot of new things — home decor, special-occasion items — coming in that we’ve never had before,” Emily says. “It’s all very exciting. We like to keep it fresh and fun.”