By Catherine Carter Contributing Writer
Posted Nov 5, 2017 at 3:01 AM
“I love watching people find the perfect present,” says Shelley Cardoos, owner of Hippo, a unique handmade gift store in downtown New Bedford. That’s easy to do, given the wide range of fun and distinctive merchandise that Cardoos stocks. Does Mom have a birthday coming up? She might like a rose-scented soap ball. Is your friend decorating a new apartment? Maybe a pair of cat pillows would add a touch of whimsy to the couch. Does your grandchild love bedtime stories? How about a book called “Dragons Love Tacos”? Is your colleague at work feeling a little glum lately? Maybe a wooden bow tie would cheer him up.
Or the toughest gift-giving challenge of all: the person who has everything. Hippo has the solution! That person probably doesn’t have a coffee milk-scented candle, an enamel mermaid pin, or a T-shirt that says “Will Work For Pizza.”
The shop even carries the perfect finishing touches for your presents, such as wrapping paper decorated with strawberries, hot dogs, or ice cream cones. There are little extras like temporary tattoos, stickers, and magnets. Witty greeting cards are Hippo’s specialty, among their best-selling items. Their cards are decorated with such diverse images as cat breeds and cassette tapes.
Hippo’s accessible location in a sunlit room at the corner of Union and Purchase streets makes an appealing setting for this collection of delightful objects. New merchandise is always coming in, often geared toward shopping cycles such as back-to-school or holidays, so customers can always find a timely selection.
The secret to Hippo’s success is the individuality of the artists whose creations they stock. The store offers products by nearly 80 artisans, the majority of whom hail from New Bedford and nearby locations like Providence and Boston. The rest are from states across the country, from New York to Tennessee to Florida, and as far away as Australia.
Perhaps Shelley Cardoos has such a talent for discovering and displaying these creative gifts because she too has an artist’s eye. She grew up in Pembroke, one of those kids who always loved to draw. She came to New Bedford to attend the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where she earned her degree in sculpture. What kept her here after graduation, even though larger cities beckoned, was the welcoming creative community offering multiple opportunities to exhibit her work. “I loved being one of a small group of artists driven to make this happen,” she says.
She worked for AHEAD, a golf and corporate embroidery company, for 12 years, eventually promoted to manager of their creative department, while painting canvases on weekends. Then she began making T-shirts and selling them along with her paintings at craft fairs. Eventually she joined with Sarah Furtado, a kindred spirit who also dreamed of opening a gift shop, to form CRAFT-A-RAMA.
CRAFT-A-RAMA ran as a seasonal popup shop, offering special gifts from Thanksgiving to Christmas, set up at various temporary locations around New Bedford. After six years of successful sales, Cardoos and Furtado opened Hippo at its current storefront location in 2016. Furtado now manages the shop, the friendly face who greets customers at the door.
The shop’s name has its origins in Cardoos’ childhood; since grade school, she has collected trinkets of the animal. When it came time to decide what to call the store, she realized that “hip” could also describe the trendy nature of her merchandise, and so Hippo got its title.
What won’t you find at Hippo? Anything you could find at a large retailer like Amazon or Target.
An item has to be one-of-a-kind to find its way to the shelves at Hippo. It’s also important to Cardoos that her merchandise is affordable, so customers with all budgets can find what they’re looking for.
Along with unique gifts, Hippo offers creative workshops to the community. Their first event, a “dreamweaver” and tea-tasting event in October, was a sell-out. Participants wove their own dreamcatchers out of textiles and crystals while sipping freshly brewed herbal tea. Cardoos says she plans to schedule more classes like this in the future.
It could be that supporting other entrepreneurs, whether the object-makers or small-business owners, is what Cardoos enjoys most. In addition to running Hippo, she works at the New Bedford branch of Entrepreneurship for All, a Lowell-based organization that provides mentorships and workshops. When asked about her favorite part of running Hippo, Cardoos breaks into a smile. “I love writing out checks,” she says, referring to the artists whose creations she stocks. “They are all small businesses we can help grow.”
Hippo, located at 741 Purchase Street in New Bedford, is open Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. For more information, visit their website at shopathippo.com or contact them at email@example.com or 774.202.1347.
Catherine Carter is a New Bedford artist and former Standard-Times journalist. Her profiles of area businesses will appear in this space regularly.