Gifts Waiting to be Discovered: The Gingko Tree Finds a Home in Verona

Photo by Eric Tadsen

More than 20 years ago, Rachel Thorson-Schmied and her husband renovated an old home in New Glarus, transforming the property into a bed and breakfast/gift shop combination. While the gift shop was quaint, Rachel thought it would appeal to overnight guests. It was a simple house, so it was simple to do a Swiss Shaker design.

Since 2015, and still warmly quaint, The Gingko Tree can be found at 107 S. Main Street in Verona. The shops cozy atmosphere invites all to discover the gifts inside. However, much like any locally owned shop in Greater Madison, the journey from what was once a Swiss home to a Verona shop is an inspiring story.

The space was first expanded in 1995 inside the bed and breakfast. Two years later, the shop, Simple Gifts Gallery, moved to its own building in New Glarus. In 2005, Rachel moved the shop to Monroe Street in Madison and renamed it The Gingko Tree.

Its a stunningly beautiful tree. It has a distinctive leaf shaped like a fan, says Rachel. But the name holds more weight than just its leaf or history. Its my mothers favorite tree, and theres a tie to my son as well. Its personal and meaningful.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

Rachels background in retail began in 1970. West Towne Mall had just opened, and she began working part-time retail. When I was younger and on a budget, I loved going into shops and seeing pretty things. But if I ever went into a store where I felt there was nothing I could afford, that wasnt a good feeling. Ive always felt strongly that, in my shop, I would have things in all kinds of price ranges.

Rachel grew up in Verona when the population was around 748 people and a traffic light was yet to be installed. Its not at all like it was, but it still feels like home.

When Rachel moved the shop to Madison, it increased in size, which she says was easy. Then the building was sold. Rachel relocated The Gingko Tree to Verona and had to downsize. Thats more challenging. Ive managed to put a decent amount of merchandise in the space, and customers say its just as wonderful as it was on Monroe Street. It felt good to hear that.

The key to keeping The Gingko Tree true to how Rachel envisioned it more than two decades ago? Keeping it personal. Small shops are very personal expressions. Gift shops, by nature, are so aesthetically involved. You are constantly picking things out you like, and you hope your customers will like too.

Even in these technologically focused times, Rachel believes gift giving will always remain a personal experience. Seeing something in person and touching something I am thinking of gifting is important. Ive talked to people in the shop who have trouble with buying online. Its more of a challenge with gift items.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

Even an errand, like buying a card (where some might flee to a drug store, grab the first relevant card they find, and go on their way), turns into an enjoyable, heart-warming experience at The Gingko Tree. People come in and spend a long time reading cards, Rachel says. It might be a dying breed, but I sure hope we dont lose the desire to hold books and shop in person to buy something special for someone special.

The Gingko Tree is still stretching its limbs for new shoppers to find it. Park in the rear parking lot, load up the car, and make this shop part of your Sunday funday. Inside the shop, youll find a childrens corner, a kitchen/gourmet department, puzzles, games, stationery items, and a section near the front of the store that changes seasonally.

No season is as prominent in a local gift shop than the holiday season. Rachel starts shopping for the Christmas season in January of each year. She begins ordering in March and July. However, unlike most stores, you wont see Christmas gifts and dcor on display until the day after Thanksgiving. Its true, I havent spent a Thanksgiving with family in about 10 years. But I just know people appreciate waiting instead of overloading them with early Christmas items.

The Gingko Tree stocks ornaments, table top dcor, place settings, and popular brands, such as baggallini, Baby Aspen, Tea Forte, Sweet Shop Truffles, Pomegranate jigsaw puzzles, and Vilmain pewter. The shop also is a retailer for Meissenburg Designs, a Montana company that specializes in vintage signs that can be personalized with names, images, addresses, and more.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

My shop is distinctive, Rachel says. You should be able to walk into any gift shop and not find another one like it. You can walk into my shop and be pleasantly surprised.

Rachel also says she enjoys having a theme to her items. She tends to not sway with retail trends unless she is fond of the items, such as the trending fox. I happen to love that animal. When Im at a market, Im constantly looking for things to fit into themes. Its a lot of fun to just be as creative as you can be.

At the end of each day, Rachel looks back at her years of owning The Gingko Tree. There was something in her that wanted to keep it moving. Whether its a small or large business, there is a lot to it. This is a way to express yourself and to be able to use your own thoughts on a daily basis. There was something about that idea that always made me interested in having the shop and the bed and breakfast. I do it because I thoroughly enjoy it. It gives me a creative outlet, and that feels good.

Chelsey Dequaine works as a social media/community specialist for designCraft Advertising and is a freelance writer.