Never Too Old: Gift shop sales balloon thanks to 81-year-old manager

Evelyn Peck greets a customer from behind the counter at the River Garden gift shop.

Evelyn Peck greets a customer from behind the counter at the River Garden gift shop.

Ever since Evelyn Peck took over as manager of the gift shop at River Garden Hebrew Home merchandise has been flying off the shelves.

The 81-year-old Beauclerc resident, whose husband, Ira, resides at the Mandarin-based senior community, took over managing the small gift shop in the lobby in February 2016. A 20-year member of the River Garden Women’s Auxiliary, Peck immediately took stock of her inventory and revamped the shop to give it a new look. 

In March, on the day of River Garden’s anniversary celebration, she held a big sale, setting up a satellite locations in the facility’s day care center. “We set up a zoo and had a sign that said, ‘Please don’t feed the animals,’” Peck said, noting she offered stuffed animals which were piled high in laundry baskets in front of the shop. “We did a lot of business and cleared out a lot of the old inventory. It was a big success. Nobody was more shocked that I was, and I really mean that.”

Since Peck has taken over, she has tripled the sales in the store, with all the profits going directly to River Garden Senior Services. But retail work is in her DNA, she said. A native from Greensboro, North Carolina, Peck grew up selling footwear in her father’s Boston Sample Shoe Store and occasionally helped out in her uncle’s shoe shops in Charlotte and High Point. “We were a shoe family,” she said. “At that time I hated the retail business. How would you like to put shoes on people’s feet?”

However, when she was offered the job as manager, she did not hesitate. “I felt an obligation to River Garden,” she said, noting the good care her husband is receiving. “When you are a Southern Jew, raised in a small town, you are raised to contribute to the community,” she explained. “I thought it would be a way to give back.”

Peck’s shop is open six days a week, Sunday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Although River Garden is a gated community, the public is welcome to shop by just mentioning the gift store at the guard gate.

Peck’s regular staff of 14 are all volunteers, as are five or six River Garden staff who substitute when needed. Margaret Miller, an interior designer by profession, designs the curio cabinets and window displays inside the shop and out.

Peck said she found a “fabulous” supplier online and no longer “goes to market in Atlanta” for her inventory as the previous shop manager did. Her store sells oodles of clip earrings, a favorite of River Garden’s female residents, as well as sundries, hair accessories, scarves, key rings, stationery, ice cream and candy, all for $20 or less. “The key to our success is to keep our prices low and have inventory that looks expensive,” Peck said. “If an item stays on the shelf more than a couple of weeks I feel like I’ve failed.”

But perhaps the main reason River Garden’s shop is so successful is Peck herself. “She is customer friendly. Her personality entices you to buy,” said Karen Frey of Tucson, Arizona, who said she has spent a lot of money while visiting her father in rehab.

The gift shop is more than a store or way to raise money, said Peck. “It creates an arena of normalcy for the residents. It is a place where the residents and staff can be customers. River Garden is a family,” she said. “The last thing about it is to make money. The number one goal is to make people feel good.”


By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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