Did you ever wake up in the morning thinking that what you really need is a rubber chicken - not just any rubber chicken, but America's #1 Rubber Chicken? Or that a glow-in-the-dark mustache is the ticket to enhanced sex appeal? Or that musk-scented hand soap in the shape of a hand would add that final touch (no pun intended) to your bathroom decor?
In New York City, LA, or San Francisco, acquiring these rare, just-right items might take days of searching, but in Southern Humboldt there's the Blue Moon Gift Shop in the heart of downtown Garberville, your one-stop shopping center for the best in party supplies, balloons, gifts, toys, cards, puzzles, holiday items, crystals, mobiles, miniature animals, sweet and/or sexy fairies, yodeling pickles, and heaps more, not to mention hand-shaped hand soap, glow-in-the-dark mustaches, and America's #1 Rubber Chicken.
The Blue Moon Gift Shop, which celebrated its 35th birthday last week, is "all about fun - fun, fun, fun - if it ain't fun we don't do it," declared founder and manager Bunny Wilder.
Wilder and two other women opened the original Blue Moon Gift Shop in Miranda on, appropriately enough, April Fool's Day, 1978, in a small building painted with rainbows on a purple background next door to the gas station and across the street from the Redwood Palace, which was then a bar and grill.
After seven years the Blue Moon had outgrown this location. Wilder's ad asking for shop space in Garberville was answered by Jim Carlson, who would soon create the pioneering communications company, Carlson Wireless.
The Blue Moon moved in, and the rest is history.
Wilder, a self-described city girl from La Mirada near Pasadena, came to Southern Humboldt in 1974 with her first husband, part of the youthful back-to-the-land movement of the 1960s and ‘70s. "We're the old people now - kind of creepy but satisfying," Wilder observed.
She was tending bar at the Riverwood Inn in Phillipsville when a woman she knew asked her to be a partner in a new store in Miranda. Wilder jumped at the chance.
Wilder always loved shopping, especially for small, quirky objects. "I wasn't a rich kid, I didn't have much money, so I liked buying small stuff," she recalled. "I'm a merchant, a seller of goods" by nature, she added.
One of her first jobs was working at The Custom House in Pasadena, which specialized in imported, high-end gift items. Paula Williams, the owner, was Wilder's mentor, who taught her about purchasing, sales, and managing a store.
One of the original partners in the Blue Moon, the woman who had invited Wilder to join her, dropped out. Wilder and the remaining partner, Betsy Chester, forged ahead, specializing in home-sewn items, including Chester's cowboy shirts and Wilder's stuffed rainbows and stars, as well as pillows, comforters, and many types of clothing.
At the same time Wilder and her partners were getting the Blue Moon started, changes were occurring in her personal life. "Kirby [her third husband, Dave Kirby] moved in with me the same day we got our business license, January 1, 1978," Wilder said.
Although Wilder and Kirby have been together for 35 years, it took a while for them to officially tie the knot. They have now been married for eight years.
The partners began buying gifts to add to the shop's inventory, and started wholesaling soft sculpture and other sewn items under the name Wilder Fantasy. Seamstresses worked at home to make items Wilder designed, which was a good source of employment for people living out of town.
"We spent a lot of money on research and development" of a new product line, Wilder said, but the products didn't sell, and she had to put an end to the wholesale side of the business.
Wilder also tried a more upscale store in Garberville. Kirby and long-time employee Simone Whipple ran this shop, called B Wilder, which included an art gallery where shows were held. But this was apparently not the right thing for Garberville and it ultimately went bankrupt.
In 2001 Wilder found herself "losing enthusiasm" as well as spending much of her time in her duties as president of the Garberville Rotary Club. She didn't have to look far to find a buyer - her longtime employee and friend Kathy Hapgood. Now that her enthusiasm has been restored, Wilder is currently managing the store while Hapgood is helping an ill family member.
Today's Blue Moon is sparkling and colorful top to bottom, with mobiles, crystals, and stained glass baubles hanging from the ceiling and shiny confetti sprinkled on the floor. Kids and adults alike can spend a ridiculous amount of time examining the dazzling array of irresistible stuff from the Yodeling Pickle and the Emergency Affirmation Button (press the smiley face and it tells you good things about yourself) to snazzy earrings and pretty rings.
For those who love fantasy, there are all sizes and personality types of magical beings - fairies, witches, wizards, dragons, unicorns, and more. For animal lovers there's a menagerie of plastic and rubber critters from elephants to creepy bugs. For those who love nostalgia, Elvis, Marilyn, the Beatles, the Star Trek crew, Betty Boop, and Betty Page, among others, show up on a variety of useful items.
There are brightly covered journals, note cards and notepaper for writers, Tarot and other types of divination cards for psychics; bumper stickers, window stickers, and rolls of decorative stickers; puzzles and games; toys galore; collector salt and pepper shakers; candles, incense, and much, much, much more.
There's even a selection of special-occasion candy, from luscious chocolate truffles to satirical Anti-EstablishMints.
Gifts are cheerfully gift-wrapped as well. Customers can choose from a rainbow array of paper topped with an elaborate bouquet of curly ribbon. "Nobody else in America makes seven-ribbon bows to wrap five-dollar presents," Wilder boasts.
But it's the little stuff, the kinds of things she bought when she was a child that Wilder likes best.
"I love the 25-cent balloons," she said. "I love little plastic and rubber things - little animals. I've asked myself, Why aren't I like David Katz [the founder of Alternative Energy Engineering], and love something that amounts to something? - but no, I love little rubber animals."
The community has shared this love for 35 years. "I have customers who started as small kids, who are now grandmothers," said Wilder. Former customers often bring their children and grandchildren.
The store also attracts tourists, including many repeat customers from out the area who enjoy stopping to shop whenever they come through Garberville.
Wilder's current staff includes Julia Marquez and Simone Whipple, while Kirby helps out on weekends. Whipple is in charge of the locally famous greeting card section, purchasing cards for all occasions and attitudes - inspirational, festive, playful, silly, or even a bit rude.
"Simone loves to hear people laughing in the card section," Wilder said.
Probably no one enjoys her work more than Wilder, especially purchasing new items for the store, which she does without leaving Garberville, relying on vendors' sales representatives and her huge library of catalogs. "I can't believe the job I get to do is shop," she said.
"My motto is, I'm a workaholic - thank God it's Monday."
Customers don't have to wait until Monday. The Blue Moon is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Stop by during April to join the Blue Moon Gift Shop's month-long birthday bash. You'll be treated to free stuff and an opportunity to celebrate 35 years of providing fun to SoHum. Your inner child will thank you.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF BUNNY WILDER
1. The Blue Moon Gift Shop opened in this building in Miranda 35 years ago, on April Fool's Day, 1978.
2. Who could resist a look inside the new Blue Moon Gift Shop? Bunny Wilder, one of the original owners, greeted her customers at the door with a big smile on opening day.
3. Kathy Hapgood displays just a few items from the astronomical variety of fun science stuff for sale at Blue Moon. The year was 1990, and today Hapgood is the owner of the store.
REDWOOD TIMES PHOTO BY VIRGINIA GRAZIANI
4. Long-time employee and greeting card specialist Simone Whipple (left) joins Wilder behind the counter at the start of the Blue Moon Gift Shop's 35th birthday celebration.