Mastering mystique: McGowan’s shop reflects ‘hipster/happy/herby town’

BOULDER – Plenty of retail stores and companies have tried to capture the Boulder mystique.

Now comes LON Little Shop at 2037 13th St. in Boulder, perhaps a little more edgy in its retail leanings than most.

Owner Lon McGowan is a self-described “neurotically particular shopper” who calls Boulder “a hipster slash hippy slash herby town, with an obscene number of entrepreneurs and fancy restaurants, considering its size.”

It might just be that “hipster slash hippy slash herby town” feel to the store that will help it take off. From the simple lifestyle campaign on the store’s website, lonlittleshop.com, to its 400-square-foot shop, complete with exposed brick, McGowan carefully has calculated his plan to generate buzz — and sales.

LON Little Shop inventory changes frequently. A shopper might stop by the store two days in a row and see new products each time, McGowan said. Popular items have sold out quickly since the store opened the first week of November, McGowan said.

The spot just north of the Pearl Street Mall is on the main footpath for vacationers venturing out of the Hotel Boulderado for restaurants downtown. It’s close to popular restaurants Shine and Bohemian Biergarten, drawing a mix of customers that’s about 40 percent tourists, 60 percent locals.

“It’s a little hideaway. You might see it on Facebook or see our website, so you come to check it out,” McGowan said.

The LON Life lifestyle campaign online features employee pictures and one-sentence sound bites about the importance of design in everyday products. In the store — whether it’s a painted colander for your kitchen, a fat coffee-table book with big, glossy photos, or a wool scarf — McGowan has chosen his wares carefully. An item from a local designer might be displayed cheek by jowl with items from Finland or Asia, which gives the shop its unique, “bespoke nature,” McGowan said.

“People are looking for things that are new,” McGowan said. “So far, we can’t keep things in stock. We’re very small, but things are moving very quickly.”

One of McGowan’s favorite style mentors is Muji in Japan, a retail lifestyle company that sells clothing and housewares, among other consumer items. The store features Muji umbrellas among its 200 products, which have been chosen from 50 designers and brands around the world. Items for sale range in price from $8 to $350, with the majority of products in the $20 to $80 range.

Part of the store’s early success may be attributed to its full-time designer Jeff Walter, who concentrates on putting a “designer’s touch” on every product. When it comes to the store’s Web campaign, Walter said the idea is to put people and products on the same plane, where specially designed products have an emotional place in people’s lives.

“A lot of design (products) is built to be elite, so we want to make it very open and ‘there’,” Walters said.

McGowan may be better-known in the business world for founding iClick, a Seattle-based company that puts logos on USB drives and other promotional items. The company has about 60 employees and revenue close to $16 million in 2011, according to Inc. magazine. He grew up in Colorado, moved to Seattle for 10 years, where he started iClick in 2001, then moved back to Boulder four years ago with his wife and two young children.

While the shop is in Colorado, shoppers hail from both coasts, and website shoppers log on from around the world, McGowan said. They’re looking for a shop that’s “everything Boulder” but whose filter is not just its location, he said.

Perhaps the best Boulder-centric design item in the shop is a folder titled “One Fine Day in Boulder.” It features the best of the city’s shopping, food and accommodations – a perfect shopping momento for tourist visitors.


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