By Pamela Dozois
The idea of opening a children’s store first came to Doris Mitchell when her first granddaughter was born. She found an empty store front on Copenhagen Drive in Solvang and went to Los Angeles buying merchandise to sell in the Solvang Baby Gift Shop in 1970.
“My mother was frustrated that there were no stores in Solvang where she could shop for baby clothes for her first granddaughter,” said Donna Oliver, Mitchell’s daughter.
Mitchell came to Solvang in 1933 with her Danish immigrant family. The family had initially stopped in South Dakota, where Mitchell was born, and then moved to Solvang.
“The store was her pride and joy,” Oliver said. “She wasn’t a businessperson, she didn’t have a job and decided she could open up her own store. People loved what she picked out for her new baby store. She worked hard and made a success of it. It has been in the same location for 50 years and several more grandchildren and great grandchildren have been outfitted over the years.”
The name of the store was changed to the Solvang Children’s Shop some 30-odd years ago, recalled Oliver. It has always been a family operation. Oliver worked at the store during her high school years and was later joined by her sister Debra Etling. Oliver’s sister-in-law Adele also helped out in the store as did a later granddaughter, Leah Etling.
“It has been through hard work and doing all the tasks required ourselves, from bookkeeping to cleaning that has made the store viable,” Oliver said. “Retail has become a difficult business over the years, especially now with online sales competition.”
When Mitchell “retired,” one of her favorite things to do was to come in and help in the store, Oliver recalled. By then, the sisters had assumed most of the duties in the running of the store. In 2013, their mother formally transferred the business to her two daughters. Mitchell passed away at the end of 2017, leaving her beloved store in good hands.
“To survive in Solvang, we think a store must appeal to tourists as well as locals,” said Oliver. “We buy with our local customers in mind for most of our lines but supplement it with some things that we know appeal to visitors, like our Solvang T-shirts and our Solvang dress that we have made especially for our store. We sell lots of shoes to our Valley customers (our See Kai Run sneakers are a favorite), cowboy boots, as well as clothing. Gifts for new babies are also a good seller for us
“We frequently have customers come into the store to reminisce about having purchased over the years a special dress for their daughter or granddaughter or a cute outfit for their son. A lot of times they come in to shop for the next generation,” Oliver said.
“We hope that the store will continue with the next generation of my family,” said Oliver.
Etling’s daughter-in-law Abigail Sample Etling has been helping out in the store and there are great-grandchildren who have shown an interest in the store for the future.
“It would be wonderful to see my mother’s legacy pass on to future generations,” Oliver said.
The Solvang Children’s Shop is located at 1666 Copenhagen Drive in Solvang, and they also have an online shop at www.solvangchildrensshop.com. Follow them on social media @solvangchildrensshop.