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After 40 stylish years, Bo Danica closing doors

After more than 40 years in business in the Jewel under three different owners, Bo Danica will close its doors after the year-end holidays.

The dinnerware, home accessories and gift shop at 7722 Girard Ave., which has always had a distinctive Scandinavian flair, is continuing a liquidation sale, with 10 to 20 percent off on most merchandise, that began Nov. 28. News of the boutique’s impending closure had a line of customers stretched around the block the first couple days.

“It’s against your instinct to have a sale during Christmas,” said current owner Penny Lake, who purchased Bo Danica in 1990. “But it made sense because, after the holidays, the whole world goes on sale.”

But Lake was taken back by the turnout of hungry shoppers that stretched the capabilities of she and her staff to their limits. The initial days of the liquidation sale were so high-speed, it made Lake feel like the conductor of a bullet train. “It went so fast that I am shocked,” she said. “We’ve just had the most wonderful customers. I should have added all that up and multiplied it by our mailing list to figure out how big it (turnout) was going to be. But I never thought there’d be lines. It just never stopped. I couldn’t talk to people. It wasn’t like being a hostess. All I wanted to do was just get the line down, not have people waiting. People were coming to say good-bye. It was quite overwhelming.”

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“It was time,” said Lake about retirement, noting time itself was the most important factor weighing in her decision. “I saw an article that had a pie chart,” she said, “with all these slivers for recreation, family, work, travel, personal items, etc. At the end was a questionnaire asking you to create your own pie chart. It was scary. I had this giant wedge (work) with a little sliver for me. We just felt we wanted a little more balance, to move forward and enjoy some things.”

Customers at Bo Danica have been more than loyal: They have been absolutely passionate.

Former La Jollan Linda Le Beau, who now lives in Montana, has patronized Bo Danica since the early ‘80s. Choking back tears, she discussed why the store has meant so much to her. “I’ve never felt like just a customer,” Le Beau said. “I’ve felt like family because of how they interacted with us, treated us.”

Hermeen Scharaga, a La Jolla socialite and longtime Bo Danica convert, is downcast about news of Bo Danica’s imminent demise. “I am so sad to hear this wonderful, beautiful store with such a fabulous owner is closing,” Scharaga said. “I was one of Penny’s first customers, and my daughter, her husband and my son have all been loyal customers. You’ll never find another store like Bo Danica. It’s been a great store for buying a loved one a beautiful gift, and I’m treated with VIP service. What more could you want?”

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“For those of us who grew up in La Jolla,” added Le Beau, “we’re happy for Penny, but it’s bittersweet because we are also saddened. It is such a unique store: Many of us were disappointed there wasn’t an opportunity to buy it.”

Le Beau said Bo Danica has had a similar sentimental effect on many of its clients. “There was a gentleman in here the other day who was almost in tears,” she said. “He’s done his Christmas shopping in here every year and always found the perfect gift. ‘What am I going to do now?’ ” he asked.

Lake had no experience in retail before purchasing Bo Danica. “I was in corporate taxes,” she said. “Something had always been in me, and I was wanting to break out so it was a great opportunity. I knew the store. For years I was a customer. I knew it had a great reputation for finding things that you might not find elsewhere.”

The original owners of Bo Danica were Alex and Helena Rasmussen from Denmark, who started the shop in the ‘60s and did all their buying in Scandinavia, which branded the store. “It was a very unique store at that time because of the things they were bringing in from overseas that you couldn’t even find here,” said Lake. “Scandinavian flavor in the ‘60s was the ultimate in modern design. It kind of blossomed into contemporary.”

In the ‘70s, Bo Danica was owned by Harold and Adele Frank, who were from a big furniture family, and brought that element to the store for awhile. “When we bought the store we did not inherit that,” said Lake. “It was a tabletop store at the time we bought it.”

The store, and the times, both changed. “We stayed contemporary,” said Penny Lake, “but we added Asian and more global influences over the years. One of the biggest trends in the last 10 years is the whole Mediterannean-Tuscan influence, which was very well suited for this area with the climate and architecture. People wanted a more colorful, casual lifestyle. We added a lot more home accessories - lamps, rugs, decorative accessories. We just kept evolving. Our customers kind of told us to.”

Lake said Bo Danica, under her stewardship, played a small role in beginning to change the image of La Jolla as a place where people other than the elite come to shop. “People would come in and be pleasantly surprised at finding an interesting or well-designed accessory for their home at a very reasonable price,” she said. “There was always an automatic assumption that if you’re in La Jolla, you’re expensive. People were very happy and surprised about all the things we brought in and were able to offer at exceptionally reasonable prices, so that everyone could come in and find something.”