Experienced framers Barry Stahl and Bob Clayton built Big Picture Framing from scratch in 2000, holding meetings around an old card table as construction roared around them. Today, framers at 15 area locations craft custom frames to display artwork, photographs, and record sleeves, and shadow boxes protect three-dimensional items such as ballet slippers, macaroni art, or a swarm of wasps. Patrons can dictate all design choices, choosing from metal and wooden frames in a multitude of colors and styles, or ask for recommendations from one of Big Picture Framing's resident experts. Big Picture Framing also stocks pre-framed art, prints, and posters to spruce up bare-walled homes or a drab doghouse.
A person would have little use for a wall calendar if they lived beneath the colorful canopy of hanging plants of Fran's Flowers. That’s because the selections of foliage, flowers, and produce changes as the seasons do. In fall, shelves brim with crisp apples from local orchards, winter brings poinsettias and balsam wreaths, and annuals arrive in Spring from local growers. Petals from the prismatic mélange of plants fill the outdoor gardening store with a vibrant spectrum of colors.
The seasonal blooms don't happen by themselves, though. Owner Fran and his family have gardening in their blood. Fran started the business with his father more than a quarter of a century ago when flowers only came in three shades of grey. His passion hasn't waned since. Along with his family, Fran happily chats with customers to help them pick out flowers or explain how to properly plant them in gardens. This attention to customer service, along with the immense handpicked selection of plants, earned the business the distinction as “a diamond in the rough” by Chronicle in 2009.
In 1965, Popular Mechanics ran a small classified ad for Brookstone, a new catalog company that packed its pages with functional products and detail-oriented descriptions. Brookstone quickly expanded to meet the high demand for its collection of “hard-to-find tools,” and opened the door to its first retail location in 1973. Today, Brookstone’s more than 300 nationwide retail locations allow customers to test-drive its ever-growing lineup of interesting products, which range from Bluetooth-enabled massage chairs to power adapters designed for international travelers and their electronic passports. Staying true to its roots as a catalog company, Brookstone houses an even larger selection of products, each waiting patiently to be shipped, on its website.
Neo Interiors looks for modernity in both form and function, culling furniture with contemporary shapes that also boast multi-functionality. Shoppers travel throughout a 15,000-square-foot showroom, alighting on pieces imported from Italy, Belgium, and Spain. The large and ever-changing inventory hails from approximately 15 distributors, each of which represents anywhere from 10 to 20 manufacturers. All-purpose design pops up everywhere, from updated takes on the sleeper sofa to wall-mounted storage units, whose glossy drop-down doors double as a makeshift bar or a stage for impromptu puppet shows. Italian Magniflex mattresses wrap soy-based memory foam in linen or organic cotton covers, some of which feature reversible designs that alternate between soft and firm support. Eco-friendly elements also ignite the shop's selection of freestanding bio ethanol fireplaces, whose smoke-free flames are powered by fuel harvested from grains and potatoes instead of gas, electricity, or magic spells.
The journey from confusion to organization doesn't have to be a long one. Often enough, it's the length of one tiny strip of metal?the staple that holds a school paper together, or attaches a cover letter to a r?sum?. Staples doesn't carry staples exclusively, of course, but for 26 years, they've aspired to create that same sense of effortless order. Their library of products covers everything from pencils and fire extinguishers to all-in-one machines and facility supplies, all of which aim to make jobs easier.
The technology aisles feature more advanced gear: cameras, phones, label makers, tablets, and laptops from popular brands. Onsite copy and print centers churn out professional documents, business cards, and several other types of paper and photo goods. And, though Staples' focus is work, the stores can also furnish break rooms with chairs and coffeemakers.