By Karen Billing
An artisan jewelry maker who plays on the ordinary beauty of the penny; a former Canyon Crest Academy art teacher who makes textile masterpieces; a young father who found a way to repurpose his son’s baby food jars into a full time gig; a handful of shop owners and artisans who treasure the local and unique, both the traditional and the eclectic: This is the Row Collective at Flower Hill Promenade.
As part of its renovation over the last year, Flower Hill has carved out a part of the bottom floor of the center to serve as the Row. The management’s mission has been to find vendors with a certain type of vibe for this “artisan and curated” section of the mall.
“It’s nice to have like-minded people in this space,” said Julie Rais, the former San Dieguito Union High School District art teacher turned-owner of Rais Case.
The Row is made up of the stores Lone Flag, Van De Vort, Rais Case and Mr. B’s Luminaries. Three new stores have joined them and opened this month: Studio Penny Lane, Pink Soul and A Ship in the Woods’ WSOHOIDPS.
The Row stores are connected by an open patio filled with wooden tables and seating areas with string lights dangling from the level above, book-ended by Sea and Smoke’s outdoor patio and a few empty storefronts for future Row denizens.
Clothing stores Van De Vort and Lone Flag are placed across from one another. The Van De Vort boutique is owner Andrea Van De Vort’s “dream come true” and Flower Hill holds a special place in her heart as she purchased her wedding dress from the center’s Bliss Bride. Her store is filled wall-to-wall with coveted Los Angeles lines such as Stone Cold Fox, Flynn Skye, Cleo Bella and MINK PINK that can’t be found anywhere else in San Diego. Customers can score in-style crop tops, jumpers, floppy bohemian hats, bright colored bikinis and maxi skirts.
The look of Lone Flag across the way is timeless, trendless and well crafted. Sam Larson, who opened the store in November 2013, has a love for the “perfect pair of denim that wears and lasts, for boots that age beautifully and accessories made by hand with local materials.”
He worked in branding and apparel for many years but he was frustrated because he felt like he couldn’t find a place for his retail store that met his style in San Diego.
“It was extremely frustrating finding a location anywhere that made sense,” Larson said.
“I would’ve never looked at Flower Hill a year ago. But they had a vision, they wanted young, small businesses that are different.”
Larson admits his particular brand of different doesn’t exactly scream Del Mar but perhaps the Row is bringing about a shift.
His clothing is understated, sophisticated and well made. While people can find Larson’s own Lone Flag sew and cut collection in other retailers, Flower Hill serves as his flagship store. He also collaborates and supports other local designers and businesses, such as small batch San Diego coffee roasters C&T Collective and James Coffee, whose grinds you can find on the shelves in his store.
Pink Soul opened its doors officially over the weekend, although owner Heidi Lund was making sales even while she set up shop, a “perfect” little location with wood floors and an eye-catching light fixture as a centerpiece, a flea market find that was given new life by a coat of hot pink paint.
“I need pink,” Lund said.
Lund specializes in yoga gear and “fancy loungewear” as well as unique accessories at a variety of price points. She likes to stock her store with the funky and the local, you can find Mia Brazzilia workout wear designed by local martial arts instructor Kaneta Harmon and local designer Ashley Ann Bennett’s leather painted earrings and cuff bracelets.
The Flower Hill store is Lund’s second location with the first Pink Soul on Highway 101 in Encinitas.
“I had looked at the mall before but I thought it was old and tired,” Lund said of the pre-facelift Flower Hill. “I saw the changes that were taking place and I really like what’s going on with the center. I think it’s going to be a fun, happening type of place.”
Studio Penny Lane had its soft opening on March 25, with a grand opening planned sometime in May. Owner Laurie Libman-Wilson said her focus lately with her three-year-old business has been more on wholesale, she jumped on the opportunity to move into Flower Hill.
“It’s just become such a great place that I couldn’t pass it up,” Libman-Wilson said.
She was impressed by all of the renovations, the addition of Whole Foods as an anchor and the popular draw of the Cucina Enoteca restaurant and what they are trying to do with the Row section she will be in.
“It’s going to be a cool little enclave of stores there, I’m really excited for it,” said Libman-Wilson.
Libman-Wilson used to have a retail space on Cedros Avenue in Solana Beach, but she hopes her Flower Hill spot will be more of a workshop.
“I won’t run any of my wholesale business out of there, I will probably do things like letting people be involved in the process of creating a piece,” Libman-Wilson said.
One of her most popular items right now is her gratitude apothecary jars that promote a daily practice of gratitude.
“Everytime you see a penny, acknowledge something you’re grateful for,” said Libman-Wilson. As it says on the jar: “A life lived in gratitude is a quiet joy.”
On Thursdays, you can find artisans working side-by-side in the Rais Case/Mr. B’s Luminaries space. The space is part storefront, part-workspace just as Libman-Wilson envisions her studio will be.
“It always smells so good in here,” said Julie Rais of Rais Case of the oils used to lend fragrance to her partner Shem Gott’s French lavender, lemon grass, tea tree peppermint, cinnamon-vanilla and rosemary citrus candles in jars.
Gott and Rais met randomly at a show in Los Angeles; a barter deal between them had Gott swapping one of Rais’ bags for his wife and Rais making off with one of his luminaries.
About three months later, Rais got a phone call from Gott inquiring whether she would want to join him in the Flower Hill space. At the time, Rais was working as an art teacher at CCA .
“I always thought there was something else for me. As a teacher you feel guilty saying that because so much of it is very rewarding,” Rais said. “ (The purses) started out as a hobby but I fell I love with what I was doing and the goal was to eventually do it full time. I never thought would actually happen.”
After the stores opened in November 2013, Rais first split time between the classroom and the store, coming to school happy and buzzing from her early morning work at the shop and sharing her real-life art experience with her students. She left the classroom for good in January but her students still visit often, “stoked” to have been a small part of the process.
Rais’ creations come courtesy of beautiful 97 percent wool Pendleton fabric woven in Oregon; bolts of which fill up the workspace and are stacked as décor in the storefront.
Mr. B’s big candle jars sit among Rais’ clutches, pillows, satchels, boot covers and her popular fanny packs, which are a very fashion-forward spin on the 1980s staple.
Mr. B’s candles are all hand poured, all soy wax loaded up with essential oils for fragrance. Gott has also started doing succulent centerpieces in reclaimed wood trays, the wood coming from his childhood home’s fences.
While art is being made in the Rais-Gott collaborative, down the Row a few doors is where art hopes to come alive.
A Ship in the Woods opened over the weekend, moving from a residential home in the hills of Del Mar. Its name at Flower Hill is WSOHOIDPS, a word puzzle where the words A Ship in the Woods all appear.
The founders, Kiersten Puusemp, RJ Brooks and Dan Fauchier, are all artists and creators. Puusemp works in installation, mixed media and performance; Brooks has a background in film studies and photography; and Fauchier is a professional construction facilitator with a lifelong appreciation of the arts.
The three partners founded the non-profit foundation in 2010 in the Del Mar house to create an eclectic atmosphere for art exhibitions, musical performances, gatherings and other cultural events.
“Originally the goal was simply to find interesting people doing interesting things and connect them using the house as a place to make that happen,” said Puusemp.
They started with a series of group art shows and moved on to include music events, film screenings, lectures, comedy and a residency program. Their last event at an external venue, La Paloma Theatre, featured the films and a performance by actor and filmmaker Crispin Glover, the first time he’s performed in California in nearly a decade.
Their lease at the house will end in August and they plan to remain there until then.
“The Flower Hill location WSOHOIDPS is an experiment for us. Doing what we do in the house is somewhat unusual thing. Informed, thoughtful and interesting cultural programming is not necessarily what you would expect to find in a suburban house in Del Mar. It’s a bit out of place, like a ship in the woods,” said Puusemp. “Flower Hill is similar in that a high-end mini-mall is not exactly the place you’d expect to find what we’re doing either.”
At WSOHOIDPS they plan to exhibit and sell artwork in all mediums and are working on hosting film and music events in the courtyard.
This year the Row’s courtyard has been activated in ways it never has before.
Rais Case has held a few make-and-take events in collaboration with fellow Row shops. Retail shops around the patio kept their doors open into the evening with music, beverages and mingling, while for a small fee attendees could make key chains or wall hangings with Rais’ scraps of leather, feathers and handmade beads.
Rais hopes to host another amateur artisan event during spring break for high schoolers, April 8-10. Teens will be welcome to come by and make a tassel, a candle and learn how to sew.
Puusemp also said she hopes to coordinate as much as possible with everyone in the complex to make it a fun and interesting destination.
“Jeffrey has this vision,” Rais said of the center’s owner Jeffrey Essakow. “Time will tell how far it can go because there’s a lot of potential.”