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Stores Offer Three-Stop Valentine's Shopping Just Steps Apart

North Avenue small businesses collaborate on Dads & Kids Week leading up to holiday.

It's dad's every-holiday dilemma. Not only must he find something special for the missus, he also has to make sure the kids have something heartwarming to present to mom.

For Valentine's Day shopping-challenged fathers, three small North Avenue businesses have teamed up to make it fun and convenient to take the little ones out to find the perfect gifts from all concerned.

Dubbing this Dads and Kids Week, from now through Tuesday (the day with the heart on your calendar, please don't forget), Fair Trade for All, Bentley's One of a Kind and Candy Bouquet have each created an activity or treat for kids who come through the door — and maybe a discount for dads.

All located within steps of each other and the corner of West North Avenue and North 88th Street, the three businesses agreed to promote the event together but each customized their particular take on it.

The world at your fingertips at 8730 W. North Ave.

Dads and Kids Week is the brainchild of Gail Bennett-Christian, co-owner with her husband Allen Christian.

Given that the shop features handmade artisan goods from around the world, a treasure hunt seemed appropriate, Allen Christian said.

"The kids can lead dad around the store looking for hearts," he said. "The hearts are on items on sale just for Valentine's Day. Men like deals.

"So, maybe dad will find something special, and the child gets to feel like he or she led him to it."

After dad hits on a gift, children are invited to hand-decorate a free gift bag. Christian has set up a table in the front of the store for drawing, but most kids will opt to create their work of art in "The Hut" in the back.

"The Hut" is a special space kids can go if they get bored tagging along on a shopping trip. It's a cozy little replica of a grass-roofed village hut equipped with a miniature desk and chair.

"I see kids pulling their parents down the sidewalk because they want to go in the hut," Christian said.

Art from very near (and not too far) at 8816 W. North Ave.

While Fair Trade extends its search for the handcrafted around the globe, Bentley's One of a Kind is just as focused on the unique artisan but much closer to home.

"All of our artists are from Wisconsin, and most of them are from the area," said owner Dale Dehmlow. He ticks off names from Wauwatosa, West Allis, Milwaukee, Fox Point and Waukesha — people who crochet or make jewelry, pottery or fabric arts.

"It's a gift shop that is an art fair every day," he said.

Dehmlow said that while the joint week-long Valentine's Day promotion wasn't his idea, he embraced it with enthusiasm.

"We're trying to draw people to 88th and North," he said. "There are these nice small shops and restaurants that we think are fantastic."

Dehmlow's contribution to Dads and Kids Week?

"For a very small fee – just enough to cover our costs," kids start by making a hand-colored Valentine's Day card for mom and then pick out the materials for a pair of earrings of their own design.

They can watch while Dehmlow assembles their special set of jewelry or they can just choose a pair ready off the rack.

Dehmlow's own specialty is creating sterling silver settings for semi-precious stones, focusing on necklaces and rings. Dads may find something that stands out — and he can be guaranteed no one else in the world is giving something exactly like it.

If you're lucky when you visit, you may be greeted at the door by Bentley himself — a Boston terrier-pug mix who spends a lot of time at the shop when he's not on the job himself as a nursing home therapy dog.

Confections for affections at 8722 W. North Ave.

This small shop has its own local and global reach — it will deliver anywhere in the area, and beyond that it will ship.

So, what is it? Just what the name says.

"It's a colorful bouquet — and it's made of candy," said owner Scott Rondeau. "It's as pretty as a bouquet of flowers or a fruit basket, but it can have a longer life.

"Of course, if someone wants to eat it all in one sitting, that's their business."

Rondeau's philosophy is that every day offers some reason for giving. But he acknowledges that the lead-up to Valentine's Day, when 58 million pounds of chocolate changes hands, does stand out.

For Dads and Kids Week, Rondeau has purchased miniature gift baskets that kids can fill themselves from selected stocks of his bulk candy. They get the candy and the basket for free, just for coming in during this special week — and bringing a potential adult customer in tow.

Whether the kids keep the candy and eat it themselves or elect to re-gift it to mom is — again — "their business."

For dads' shopping needs, Rondeau has made up pretty Valentine's Day bouqets heavy on shades of red, pink and white, of course, but he even has bouquets mom might enjoy giving to dad.

"I made a deal with Sprecher Brewing," he said, "so we've created this bouquet that comes in a four-pack. Besides candy, it's stocked with a Sprecher soft drink and beef stick."

Rondeau also has made up sports-fan bouquets featuring the Wisconsin Badgers and Green Bay Packers logos on ceramic cups or mini helmets.

"Most of our bouquets end up going to women," Rondeau said. "Men giving to women or women giving to women. But I think women can give candy to men, too."

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