Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Still standing after all these years



The Original Children's Shop turns 60

Back in the day when Madison Park was a destination shopping neighborhood (or at least more of one that it is today), there were multiple clothing stores in the neighborhood’s business district.  Among them were Nubia’s, The Yankee Peddler, and Ropa Bella.  Today there is just one apparel-shop survivor in The Village:  The Original Children’s Shop, which this year celebrated its 60th anniversary and next year will celebrate twenty years in Madison Park.

In 1952, Vivian Kennedy founded The Original Children’s Shop in Laurelhurst, moving the business during the 1970’s into the University Village. One of her first customers was Karol Kennedy Kucher, a born and bred Seattleite, who clothed all six of her children in apparel purchased at the shop.

Karol herself was a local celebrity, having been one half of the sister/brother championship ice skating team, The Kennedy Kids, which won five consecutive U.S. championships in the late 40’s and early 50’s (Karol’s skates and trophies are on display in the store).


Seattle, being the small world that it is, reunited Karol with the shop when her daughter, Kathryn Kucher Etherington, bought the store in 1989.  Karol was once quoted she “would rather help at the shop than chase Kathryn’s three wild indians”, so work at the shop she did.  And in 1992 when Kathryn and her family moved east of the mountains, Karol bought the store and moved it to Madison Park.  The initial location here was in the building owned by Constance Gillespie, in space that’s today occupied by Spa Jolie (4114 E. Madison St.).

The shop has always been a family affair.  Karol and her youngest daughter, Heidi Pray, ran the store together until Karol’s passing in 2004.  When Karol died, her granddaughter, Kate Etherington, took over management of the store, later joined by sister Kellie Etherington (“the back office”), with mom Kathryn returning to ownership. Prior to her grandmother’s death, Kate had been working full-time at the store--and Kellie had had her own stints there while working through college.

Kellie and Kate perpetuate the legacy

One of the major changes that the family made a few years later, with urging from the late Martha Harris, was to move the store a block down the street to the space Laurel Gifts vacated.  The 2005 move allowed the development of new services including a hair salon, the children’s play area and the introduction of women’s clothing into the apparel lineup.

By all appearances The Original Children’s Shop has been thriving in its bright and cheerful new space.  We asked what differentiates the store and causes it to be a survivor when so many others have fallen by the wayside.  Kellie tells us that the secret is that for a certain kind of customer “face to face shopping” experience, “even in the Age of the Internet.”  Selection and service mean a lot, and that may particularly be true for clothing, especially at the upper end.

“We are definitely upscale,” Kate says, “but it’s the kind of clothing that you wore as a kid.”  She characterizes this as “traditional” and gives some examples: smocked dresses, cardigans, and sweater vests.   Even with the traditional element, she notes, “We have evolved as people’s tastes have evolved.”   Among the major lines for children carried by the shop are Petit Bateau, Tea Collection, Florence Eiseman, Splendid and Charlie Rocket.  And on the women’s apparel side: Lilly Pulitzer and Petit Bateau.  In addition to the clothing, the store has a selection of stuffed animals and baby dolls (by Corolle), as well as books by Denny Blaine author/artist Alexandra Day.

But true to the original concept, TOCS is still primarily about the clothes: “High quality, long-lasting pieces that can be passed on from kid to kid to kid,” says Kellie.  And it’s also about the service: “We like it to be about the experience of purchasing something special.  This is very much a special occasion kind of shop, with lots of exceptional merchandise for Christmas, Easter, and christenings.”  One noteworthy touch is the ribbon tying on gift boxes, she adds, “since our grandmother wouldn’t allow anything less.”

While it may be a matter of dispute whether Madison Park has lost its touch as a destination shopping district, The Original Children’s Shop is definitely not hurting on that account, with regular customers coming or calling from as far away as New York or Hawaii to get what they want.  “We’re still here,” says Kate, “keeping the tradition alive, as long as people continue to support small, local shops like ours.”

The TOCS was recently nominated Best Children’s Cut and Best Children’s Clothing in the KING-TV Best of Western Washington voting.

6 comments:

  1. Nice piece, and glad The Original Children's Shop has survived all these years.

    Do you know, offhand, which is the oldest business in the neighborhood that is still in its original location, though?

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  2. I know the hardware store has been in that location since at least the early 50s.

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  3. Yes, Madison Park Hardware is the oldest continuous business in Madison Park, I believe, exclusive of eateries. The Red Onion has been around a long time, but probably not THAT long.

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  4. The Onion, the Attic, Bert's Red Apple Grocery and the hardware store have been here waaaaaaaay longer than the Children's shop, which is relatively new, compared to the other businesses....Dee McQuesten


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    1. that's not the point of the article... i think the point is to highlight the fact that the childrens shop is the last standing madison park apparel store AND a small business fighting to survive in a time when many others have been forced to give up- which we need to support. cheers to them and the other small businesses still standing in this community!

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  5. I stand corrected, since I believe Bert's goes back to the 1930's. I am not sure, however, that the Attic or the Onion pre-date Madison Park Hardware, which was started in the mid-1950s.

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