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Bluebird Mercantile, an unmatched collective of style and service

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Owner Amii Schenk and her team of talented “tastemakers” – Carol Gonzalez and Nika Shalala – have brought together a wildly eclectic group of artists and craftsmen whose creations populate the newly opened Bluebird Mercantile. Based on the idea of a collective, a concept rampant in Palm Springs shops, Schenk and her team handpick unique collections which are all housed in one spectacular shop.

“Carol and Nika, my co-managers, have been here every step of the way from physical setting up of the shop to being tastemakers for all the clothing and merchandise lines,” Schenk said. “We all collaborate and confer with each other, and I can’t imagine doing this without them.”

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(L-R) Carol Gonzalez, Nika Shalala and Amii Schenk

Bluebird Mercantile opened in what was formerly Vertigo, a popular long-standing shop founded by Chris Oswalt and Martin Ulrich. “Martin and Chris have been so helpful, and they have a wall here in the store for their merchandise. They were leaving the space, but didn’t have any plans to sell it, because they still have their online business, then I got wind of it and decided to take it. They’ve helped so much with ideas to build the business. We want to follow in their footsteps and not disappoint.”

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On left, some of the Vertigo merchandise

“We spent all of November painting, making it a clean slate and opened on December 2,” Schenk said. “Time has been our biggest challenge. Ideally, I would have loved two months to get it up and running, but we had no choice but to open. As it turns out, we had a phenomenal December.”

Collectives are widely sought out by shoppers. Schenk admitted that locals travel to Palm Springs just to visit them. Adhering to that model, at Bluebird Mercantile, spaces are rented out to artisans, however, displays are curated in such a way that the shop is cohesive and flows flawlessly.

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Rachiel Macalistaire with some of her stunning vintage clothes

Along with Amy Grace’s jewelry made from Tahiti pearls and pieces from a Palm Springs jewelry maker, shoppers can find all manner of garden and home goods, such as Moroccan candles, baskets, handmade textiles, hi-end furniture and one-of-a-kind accessories.

The clothing choices are rare finds. Super Ready (Jim Riley) reuses WWII army clothes by taking them apart and rebuilding them into pants, jackets and vintage Levi’s 501 jeans. “His Army cadet pants are very popular,” Schenk said.

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Super Ready’s – recycled WWII clothing

There are bandana pants and scarves from Artisan Collage, a clothing company based in Joshua Tree, which uses non-industrial and traditional Japanese techniques, such as indigo and mud dye, and Sashiko stitching. Caddis offers a line of eye-catching high-quality readers.

For years, Rachiel Macalistaire has hit flea markets, estate sales, swap meets and vintage sales, to amass her impressive array of vintage clothes.

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One of local artists Jim Olarte’s large macrame pieces hangs in the left-hand corner of the shop. Schenk requested the custom piece in neon yellow.

Entrepreneurial spirit

Schenk, who has been in Laguna since the early ‘90s, has extensive entrepreneurial experience.

“My father and brother are both entrepreneurs,” she said. “I started with Little Bohemian clothing line wholesale and then that turned into a (Downtown) clothing store, and I had that for 13 years. Then I started Bohemian Kids. They overlapped a little bit and I had that for six years and sold both of them and then retired for six to eight months.” She was drawn out of retirement by a friend who asked her to do a project. “We came up with neighborhood hats (NBRHD) and did that for six years and then sold it,” she said. Schenk also delved into ceramics for a while.

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Beautiful ceramic cups by local artist Mary McDonald of Double M Pottery

A self-admitted nomad, Schenk traveled around a bit before she landed in Laguna and still loves to travel. “I went to Westmont in Santa Barbara, City College in the Bay Area and then I finished at San Jose State with a degree in advertising, because I wanted to keep living in Santa Cruz. I lived in San Francisco for several years. Travel is a priority in my life. I take my kids with me now.”

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Schenk’s two sons, Joseph (21) and Christian (20) went to LBHS and now help her at the shop. “They’ve built furniture, put spreadsheets on the computer – and helped with whatever needs to be lifted or moved. They’re amazing,” she said.

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MexDirect artisan wares

Schenk is especially proud of the quality of customer service Bluebird Mercantile offers – and her incredible team.

“I realize I never want to go it alone. I know I’m the sole proprietor of this place, but I have Carol and Nika who feel like partners to me,” she said. “I rely on them for their taste, knowledge and opinions. Every woman I’ve hired (there are two other employees) comes with a particular talent or a skill, and we celebrate each other even though we’re all very different.”

Schenk also relies on her team to create a welcoming atmosphere in Bluebird Mercantile. “We want to offer an environment where people feel welcome and look forward to coming in,” she said. “We all want it to be a retail place like ‘Cheers,’ where everybody knows your name. We take pride in getting customers’ (and their dogs’) names, and what they’re looking for, so if something to their taste comes in, we can call them. This type of hospitality means a lot to us.”

Future plans

Bluebird Mercantile will also be hosting women’s groups at night events.

“We are currently looking for more lines to add to our merchandise, so artists/craftsmen can apply,” Schenk said.

Look for Bluebird Mercantile’s grand opening on January 27, but in the meantime drop in and meander around the store. You will not be disappointed. Details regarding the opening will be posted at a later date.

Bluebird Mercantile is located at 1515 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach.

Store hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sunday. Follow them on Instagram at @bluebirdmercantileLB.

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