Bruce and Nancy Lehtman of Distinctions

When it comes to thoughtful gifts, neighborhood boutiques often carry quirky items hard to find elsewhere. And shopping at smaller, locally owned stores keeps money in our communities, giving the gift of success to neighborhood retailers and their employees.


Nancy Lehtman, co-owner of this women’s clothing shop in Creve Coeur, says she buys explicitly with clients in mind. “I travel to New York and Chicago several times a year,” she says. “I know what works for our clients, and I see every single piece of merchandise before we order it for our shop.”

Distinctions recently celebrated its 21st anniversary, and has built its success by offering distinctive sportswear and special occasion dresses. “Our sportswear department carries ‘item-y’ pieces—stuff with lots of personality—and lines you don’t find everywhere else in town,” Lehtman says.

She extols the virtues of shopping at neighborhood stores, reminding people that bigger isn’t always better. “We carry stuff you won’t find at department stores, so you won’t see yourself coming and going at holiday parties,” she says. “And the service is incomparable—we deliver, we wrap gifts, and our staff, which doesn’t work on commission, is expert at making sure you get the right fit. Service is our niche.”


From the time she was a little girl, Nikki Furrer has always wanted to own a bookstore. A little over a year ago, her dream came true with Puddn’head Books in Webster Groves. “For anyone who loves to read, this is heaven,” Furrer says. “As an independent bookstore, we give you better service and a better selection than the big chains. We know what our customers want—here in Webster, it’s cookbooks, gardening books, crafts and good fiction. We read every book in the store, so we’re here if you want an expert opinion on what to read or give as a gift.”

Furrer and her staff have big plans for the holiday season. “On Dec. 9, we’re sponsoring an event at COCA with the author of Tinsel, Hank Stuever, who followed three families around during the holiday season for three years. It’s an amazing book.” Curtis Sittenfeld, author of the bestsellers Prep and American Wife, liked it so much that she offered to interview Stuever at the event. “So St. Louisans will get two wonderful authors at once,” Furrer says.

Also available at the store are signed first editions of Lorrie Moore’s Gate at the Stairs, one of Furrer’s favorite books. Shopping locally has a dramatic impact, Furrer adds. “Millions of dollars stay in the community, and dozens of jobs are created. So it keeps St. Louis economically viable—and I don’t yell at my staff for spending too much time with customers!”


Marianne Przetak doesn’t feel the least bit threatened by Internet florists. “The Internet is convenient, but folks appreciate dealing with real people in a bricks-and-mortar shop,” says Przetak, owner of Ladue Florist. “They can custom-order exactly what they want, and they know it will be beautiful and arrive in perfect condition. If there’s a problem, we’re there to take care of it—you don’t have to talk to a disembodied voice on the phone.”

Ladue Florist has been in business more than 40 years, 30 of them under Przetak’s ownership. “We have an amazing inventory of fresh flowers,” she says. “That’s another thing you don’t get on the Internet—the incredible scent of fresh flowers that envelops you when you walk through the door.”

Przetak says that she and her staff are honored to be part of the St. Louis community. “It’s a privilege to be involved in so many important, emotional events in our customers’ lives—weddings, christenings, holiday celebrations, anniversaries, parties, funerals,” she says. “An incredible level of trust and confidence develops over the years. We’ve seen all the neighborhood kids grow up—it’s so moving to follow them from prom to wedding to childbirth, supplying flowers for every stage of their lives.”