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Antique boutique promises to put smiles on faces

The owner of Past & Presence Gifts & Fine Accessories in La Jolla’s downtown Village invites guests to come in and experience her unique boutique firsthand.

“There are lots of gifts that will make you smile,” promised Susan “Kirk” Kirkland, who opened her shop at 7644-1 Girard Ave. May 1.

The ladies boutique carries items priced from $9 to $1,000. The $1,000 gift is a dazzling, wall-mounted glass case containing 100 preserved and mounted Brazilian butterflies.

The ambiance created by Kirkland for her shop has attracted customers like Denise Selati of La Jolla. “Kirk has exquisite taste,” said Selati. “Her pieces are really pretty unique and individual, and she knows her customers and shops with the customers in mind.”

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Selati was charmed by the store’s atmosphere. “It’s just a wonderful, pleasant experience to shop there,” she said, adding she went into the boutique in search of an appropriate gift, which she found no shortage of.

Selati complimented Past & Presence for its novelty. “She (Kirkland) has such interesting hostess gifts,” she said, “like bottle stoppers. staplers for a desk and wonderful journals like old leather. She also has works done by local artists, paintings, little scenes of La Jolla.”

Kirkland’s taste in clothing was also applauded by Selati. “She has wonderful, wearable, exciting fabrics. She’s always on the lookout for interesting and unique pieces. Most of all, I love to shop there because she’s such an incredible person and always has something exciting to offer.”

Kirkland, who started out owning a vintage and antiques shop across the street, said her retail business has morphed over time. “My store has gone through sort of an evolution,” she said. “I started out with some vintage jewelery and handbags, and now my business has sort of turned into selling a lot of ethnic clothing and jewelry.”

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The shop contains rare clothing items indeed, primarily featuring the countries of Mexico and India. Kirkland points out a rack full of wooden jewelry and earrings handmade in Chiapas, Mexico. “It’s from a girl who graduated from UCSD and went down to Chiapas to empower the women down there,” she said. “Everything is hand-embroidered, handmade and hand-sewn, done by women down there.”

Kirkland views her shop as an accessories shop with accents for the home. She offers plenty to catch the eye, novel stuff like topiaries carved in the shape of poodles and Scottish Terriers.

But exotic clothing is her speciality. Kirkland especially enjoys blending clothes with jewelry and other accessories. “If I do Mexican clothing,” she said, “I’ll also do vintage Mexican pieces.”

Kirkland points to one of her biggest-selling items, an Indo-Pakistani quilt. “I just drifted into fashion,” she said, running her fingers through a vintage Indian shawl from the ‘60s. “I mix old and new,” she said. “My theme of nature I use wherever I can.”

Customers at Past & Presence also enjoy the shop’s eclectic mix of items. Kirkland talked about the appeal of exotic garments like those she carries from India. “Number one it’s comfortable,” she said. “And it’s very feminine. Also, their husbands love it. I have more husbands coming in encouraging their wives to buy.”

Indian clothing is appealing for another reason. Said Kirkland: “It’s so lightweight. The quality of the cotton is terrific. They’re great to travel in. Light cloth is also just very complimentary.”

Touring Kirkland’s shop reveals an almost exhaustive array of curiosities. She has a porcupine quill with ostrich feathers you can buy to write in a personal diary. There are lobsters and crabs made of bone and purses fashioned from lizard and alligator skin.

Kirkland talked about her customer mix. “They’re local ladies,” she said. “A lot of my customers are from the Athenaeum. They’re people who are well traveled, artsy, have an interest in the world. That’s they main thing: They’re interested in finding out what’s happening all over.”

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The boutique owner picks up a bracelet with tiled playing cards selling for $16. “These are popular with the bridge club,” Kirkland noted, adding she carries lots of T-shirts with seahorses on them because they’re a local species. Another of her favored items is a “Franky flippper bottoms up,” a bottle “stuffer” in the shape of an upside-down scuba diver. She also carries mermaid-shaped bottle openers. “I have a lot of things that make you smile for under $20,” she pointed out.

Past & Presence has cachets with pictures on them of scenes from old La Jolla, the Beach & Tennis Club circa 1948 and and image of the Cove from 1910. There are mounted Ethiopian Coptic crosses, bracelets made from shedded ram’s horns.

One of the most novel items for sale at Past & Presence are plastic-coated newspaper handbags.

Kirkland likes the numerous changes going on along Girard Avenue a couple of blocks down from the Vons shopping center. A new restaurant is going in next door to her. Everett Stunz beds and fine linens just remodeled and reopened a couple of doors down. Holistic Pharmaca has a new store being constructed a short distance away. There’s also an Italian fine furniture store nearby. “The streets really changing a lot,” said Kirkland. “It’s pretty exciting. The merchants are all incredibly nice. It’s a wonderful environment up and down the street.”

Kirland, who has been in retail for 40 years, starting started out as a buyer for Saks in New York City, said Past & Presence isn’t all about her. It’s about her merchandise. “I really want people to feel they’re the ones who are important,” she said, “that the shopping is enjoyable and fun. I want to be a very nice place to shop.”

Past & Presence is open from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For more information call (858) 459-3911.