Finding the perfect holiday gift can be a challenge. Finding something unique, personal and different from the repetitive big-box store offerings can be even harder.

In recent years, Baton Rouge has seen a surge of activity from local makers and creatively-inclined entrepreneurs bringing a more personal touch to retail in the city. For these store owners, the focus is on building a community and an all-encompassing experience around their stores, not just making a sale.

The advent of new brands and entrepreneurs builds on the city’s existing close-knit culture and network of beloved retail shops. Whether you’re looking for a cool graphic t-shirt, a piece of locally made jewelry or a new figurine to design for your favorite roleplaying game, Baton Rouge has something for you.

Wanderlust by Abby

Location: 4263 Perkins Rd Suite B

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Owner of Wanderlust by Abby, Abby Bullock, awaits customers in her store on Tuesday July 18, 2017, on Perkins Road.

Tucked into the Southdowns Shopping Center several doors down from The Bulldog, Baton Rouge, Wanderlust by Abby is a warm and inviting lifestyle boutique. Mirroring owner Abby Bullock’s joie de vivre, the store is packed with sassy printed t-shirts, knit beanies and sequined mini skirts.

The brick-and-mortar outpost, opened in February, is Bullock’s first permanent store after running Wanderlust as a pop-up boutique from the trunk of her Toyota 4Runner.

All the clothes in Bullock’s store are made in the United States, and each handmade accessory, cosmetic or piece of jewelry is designed and made by a southern artisan. Bullock said ensuring the quality of her merchandise was paramount to building a positive experience for her customers. Current brands carried include Mimosa Handcrafted jewelry, Lionheart Prints, Kismet Cosmetics and Smoke artisan perfume, among others.

Making sure her customers are comfortable, feel good about themselves and walk away with more than a purchase are her key concerns, Bullock said.

“I personally give my all to the customer and I want them to have the best experience ever,” Bullock said. “We’re here to inspire creativity and nurture optimism and happiness.”

Heading into her first holiday season in the store, Bullock said she’s thrilled to help clients find the perfect gifts for friends and loved ones. The store will include fillable “All I want for Christmas” lists both online and in the store, so friends, spouses and family members can pop in and reference loved one’s wish lists to find the perfect gift, she said. The lists and gift cards can be found on her revamped website, wanderlustbyabby.com, launched Monday.

Little Wars 

Location: 7517 Jefferson Hwy

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While not a new face in the Baton Rouge retail scene, stalwart gamer outpost Little Wars continues to bring a sense of wonder and fun to the gaming experience.

Since taking over in June, 28-year-old owner Van Vo, a ballroom dance teacher and gaming enthusiast, is investing in the face-to-face experience that makes gaming special. Expanding into new events, including a young gamers’ day next year, Vo is looking to increase the store’s name recognition and build the brand.

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Upon entering the Jefferson Plaza shop, clients can find shelves lined with Warhammer 40,000 miniature figurines, Dungeons and Dragons guide books, magic cards and classic board games, among other items. Though the store’s selection is impressive, the real magic stems from the shop’s weekly gaming nights and one-on-one service, Vo said.

As a hobbyist, Vo said he loves interacting with customers and helping them find their passion in the gaming world.

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“Gaming can appeal to such a wide variety of users that everyone can find something to be passionate about,” Vo said. “Games don’t discriminate. Anybody can play and there are so many different aspects to a game that they can almost always find something that they can attach to and love.”

Tim’s Garage 

Location: 4556 Government Street Suite 1

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A great inside joke can be the foundation of a lasting friendship. For Brad Jensen, it was the foundation for his new arts and clothing focused brand, Tim’s Garage.

Opened in September, Tim’s Garage is an eclectic hodge-podge of BMX, 90s punk rock and sporting influences that come together to create a savvy, skater-cool aesthetic.

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The store developed as an evolution of Bricks and Bombs, Jensen’s art gallery and event space near Mid-City on Government between Garden District and Mid-City south. While Bricks and Bombs leaned more toward a minimalist aesthetic, Jensen knew he wanted Tim’s Garage to evoke the feeling of hanging in your high school buddy’s garage. The store is a fun mix of found textures, framed posters, vintage BMX trophies and blaring ‘80s and ‘90s jams.

Jensen built the concept quietly over time, opening an Etsy shop under the Tim’s Garage name and designing logos and other graphic elements until the time came to launch the store as a separate brand, he said.

The shop focuses largely on t-shirts, but also includes original flat bill hats, stickers and lapel pins, sweatshirts, neighborhood inspired sports pennants and posters. Jensen produces 90 to 95 percent of the store’s inventory and the other offerings come from local makers and designers, he said. Featured brands include Highland & State, Icon and Southern Made.

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For Jensen, the t-shirt is a perfect vehicle to access and explore artistic expression.

“A t-shirt is a very consumable, easy, digestible piece of artwork and it can be as much or as little as you want it to be,” Jensen said. 

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