122 S Allegheny Street Bellefonte, Pennsylvania 16823
By Serge Bielanko
Shopping for a Valentine's Day gift for your sweetheart ought to be a calm, peaceful experience for a guy, shouldn't it?
Hmph. Maybe. But it never has been for me. And I get the feeling I'm not alone either.
The truth is, once I'm standing in the middle of a big box store or some chain store surrounded by blouses and earrings and scarves, and there's no friendly faces around to help me, well... I start sweating bullets. My heart freaks out. I get overwhelmed quickly and the next thing I know I wish it was March already. St. Patricks Day is easy to shop for. Booze! Done! But Valentine's Day? Oh jeez. I want to run towards the pizza shop! I want to sprint towards the fishing stuff! I want to be surrounded by things that are less frightening, things I understand!
So when I walked into Helen Foxx & Co - arguably Bellefonte's most popular clothing shop- on a cold, windy afternoon not long ago, I have to admit it: I was feeling a little nervous. I was thinking to myself that maybe I should hightail it over towards Plaza Centre to look at some old blues records or something or cool signage from Victorian House Antiques. Maybe just run away to look at stuff that doesn't freak me out as much as all of the gorgeous things that I know nothing about that fill the racks at Helen Foxx.
I walked in. I stopped in my tracks. I pivoted. I still had time to bolt. Then out of the back came Wendy and Joyce and- no lie- it was like one of those Hollywood moments when heavenly light comes shining down in big beams from the sky as lofty harp music fills the air.
Okay, alright, maybe that's a stretch.
But not by much, I swear.
See, Wendy Hockenberry and Joyce Mills, longtime friends and co-owners of Helen Foxx, both understand that lots of gents might be on edge when they first stroll into their store. It's only natural if you think about it. After all Helen Foxx is a shop built around women. It features all kinds of lovely things that women can love to wear. It sells beautifully hand-crafted jewelry created by extremely talented local women. Heck, it's even owned and operated by two modern/sophisticated/successful women who once recognized that Bellefonte was sorely lacking this type of place. So what did they do? They opened it themselves.
And yes they're a women's boutique shop, but as I quickly found out, they're also two super-cool ladies who seem genuinely excited to help boyfriends and husbands shop for Valentine's Day gifts in a completely stress-free, no-pressure environment.
"Some men come in confidently knowing exactly what their women love," Joyce tells me, as we talk about the shop's philosophy when it comes to male shoppers. "Others are not as confident."
But that's what Wendy and Joyce are there for.
"Men just need to investigate; don’t be afraid to ask!"
Okay, okay, I tell her. Let's say a guy decides he doesn't want to buy his Valentine a camo steering wheel cover at Wal-Mart again this year. Let's say he wants to come see you at Helen Foxx and buy her something wildly fashionable instead. What should he know when he walks in the door? Does he have to have a book full of ideas ahead of time?
Joyce disarms my nerves even while I stand in the midst of hundreds of colors and sizes I don't really understand.
"To have your beloved’s size would be great," she explains."And do they love clothes, jewelry, shoes, coats or hand bags? Every woman is different. I'm a jewelry and coat girl and Wendy is a handbag and sweater girl."
Okay, that seems easy enough. Anything else?
"Something else men should take notice of is how women like to wear their clothing. Some like more fluid moving clothes, others like more fitted. Style is also an important factor. Men should know if their beloved are sporty, hobo chic, feminine lacy or classic. They should ask what their favorite color is, what color looks good on them and if they like patterns or solids."
As she told me all of this, I suddenly realized that I was probably underestimating myself all along. I actually already know so much of what she was telling me to consider before heading in to shop. My guess is that most guys already have that knowledge about their girlfriends or wives too. We just beat ourselves up thinking we're not up to the task sometimes. Talking to Joyce at Helen Foxx helped me realize that that simply isn't the truth.
And look, even if it is, well, that's the beauty of a shop like this one. It's right down the road in the middle of Bellefonte. They carry like a trillion gift ideas for all women regardless of their size or their age. And best of all, for guys, is this one very solid truth. Joyce and Wendy are both down-to-Earth and eager to help every single guy that walks through their front door. They're pros; they know how to unlock the secrets to the perfect Valentine's Day gift.
"Women know what they like and are not afraid to tell you," Wendy tells me as I'm scribbling away in my notebook.
I look up then, look around at the classy decor that line the walls of this shop, at the antlerless deer head mounted on the wall. There are no bucks hanging here, just a lone doe. It's kind of perfect actually.
So lads. You wanted a place to shop for your Valentine this year? Somewhere that isn't the drug store candy aisle?
Well, here you go.
Closed Sunday (except First Sundays)
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