If there’s one constant in Dallas, it’s “change.” Zsa Zsa’s, a gift boutique in the Oak Cliff area, has changed and evolved alongside the community it serves.
The bubbly store clerk and co-owner, Lydia Arnold, moves around the store as she shows off the various collections from Texas creators and businesses and explains the store’s history.
The business began as a furniture shop located on Lovers Lane.
“We were Fete At Home for two decades, and the neighborhood knew who we weren’t,” says Arnold.
Chad Vogel, the original owner, transformed the furniture store into a novelty gift shop and home goods store and moved it to the Bishop Arts District of Oak Cliff in 2006. The store rebranded as Fete-ish as a nod to its original name.
Arnold explains that many people were scared to explore the shop after it became Fete-ish because they thought it was a sex shop, confusing its name with the word “fetish.” Now, the store has taken on a new moniker that reflects both the personality and heart of the business: Zsa Zsa’s.
For years, a shepherd-chow mix named Zsa Zsa was a regular fixture at the Fete At Home furniture store. When the store moved to the Arts District and became a novelty gift shop and home goods store, Zsa Zsa moved right along with it and became its unofficial mascot.
She would lay on the sidewalk and greet customers as they walked in to explore the hundreds of fun and quirky Texas-created products. Now Zsa Zsa is the top dog and the store’s namesake.
In its latest incarnation, Zsa Zsa’s is an employee-owned boutique reminiscent of an Earthbound on steroids, with everything from jewelry and baby clothes to candles and adult gag gifts.
In addition to dedicating special shelf space to Texas brands and those tied explicitly to charities, Arnold says she plans for the boutique itself to support one or more local charities.
“[We’re] debating which one we want to do, [maybe] something with the foster care system, because those children have nothing,” says Arnold, who has a soft spot for children who age out of the system. Arnold hopes to assist young adults with life skills and their needs to transition to independent living.
The notion of a small business giving back in such a way amid the stifling effects of inflation on the economy is a good indication of the company’s values. At Zsa Zsa’s, people come first. The boutique champions products made by businesses involved in charitable giving and brands that practice good ethics.
The neighborhood around Zsa Zsa’s is also going through a metamorphosis. Arnold notes that the area is becoming gentrified as new apartments, townhomes, and condos go up south of the Colorado bridge.
According to Arnold, many Oak Cliff residents cannot afford the newer housing developments and are relocating; however, they must commute back to the area for work.
As new or remodeled housing becomes less and less affordable for lower-income residents, “many people in the kitchens and behind the counters that are from Oak Cliff are having to commute to work in the neighborhoods they’re from,” she says.
She describes the Oak Cliff community as “cool,” saying the area has always been hip and is considered a “destination” for out-of-towners. Arnold says the Omni Hotel concierge recommends Zsa Zsa’s as a “must-visit” to tourists.
“So the neighborhood change has gone from just Oak Cliff patrons to people coming from all over the world. I met a woman from Australia, people from Brazil and Puerto Rico,” says Arnold, whose people skills do not diminish when the store is empty.
Arnold explains that she makes a concerted effort to think of her favorite customers and friends as she reorders for the store.
“I think of my friends when I order things. I have a very fabulous friend named Ivana, and she’s always going to football games and VIP areas and stuff. So I order sunglasses with her in mind,” laughs Arnold.
This tactic is a way for Arnold to test merchandise and introduce new brands.
While Arnold is very attentive to her customers and is always present to help people find the perfect gift, she is not everyone’s cup of tea, but she says that’s okay. Arnold says she gets negative and positive reactions to her hospitality and has been criticized for “following people around the store.” However, others love her warm attention.
“This woman from Australia that came in, who moved to Austin directly from Australia. She came in and said, ‘Oh my god, everybody’s so friendly here. I’ve been treated so nicely,’ I told her, ‘That’s Texas. If they’re not nice to you, they’re probably not from around [here].'”