By George Webber
Heidi Geffen, proprietor of Tiddle E. Winks Vintage Five and Dime in Sonoma, found out early on that “if you want to have fun, you have to create your own, as no one else can possibly know what fun is for you.”
In Heidi’s case, fun is the art of rubber stamping, and stickering… oh… and candy. Not that these joys are easily attained, particularly in a remunerative and day-to-day money-making sort of way. How could one go about making a career from fun and candy?
It began with a rubber stamp store in the original L.A. Farmer’s Market in the 1980s, back when the world of rubber stamping and stickering exploded into a global phenomenon “People” called “Stickermania.” The world of sticker art was virtually invented by Petaluma-based Mrs. Grossman’s, and Heidi did some freelance art work for them: combining stamps, stickers and artistic augmentation to produce unique, vibrant, and evocative art.
Her first store, See Spot Run, was just 300 square feet, and featured an astonishing number and variety of rubber stamps. Her next store was Sticker Madness in Santa Monica — which morphed into Sticker Planet. She sold stickers from ten cents to five dollars, created an on-line catalogue, and did the buying and merchandising for a line of sticker stores in Tokyo. Heidi also appeared as the “Polka Dot Princess” throughout Los Angeles, dressed head to toe in polka dots — leading kids and adults in art projects at birthday parties: stickering and hot gluing metal trinkets to mirrors and picture frames.
One night Heidi dreamed she was working at Mrs. Grossman’s, sitting at a desk as nice people approached her with important questions about art and stickering. She called Mrs. Grossman’s assistant the next day, who asked if it was a good dream. “Yes, it was,” said Heidi. The assistant confirmed it. “I have a job for you,” said the assistant, “in the art department.”
Soon she was living in our town of Sonoma, and driving over the hill to her ideal job: helping design new stickers, creating beautiful artwork, and taking on all sorts of fun projects. While sitting at her desk a year later she suddenly experienced her dream again; it had all become true.
There was only one problem: she had come to love our town of Sonoma, and didn’t want to leave every day. And so Tiddle E. Winks Vintage Five and Dime (the “E” is to remind one of the Five and Dime pioneers S. S. Kresge and H.W. Woolworth) appeared on the Sonoma Plaza over 10 years ago. It is a perfectly engaging experience, with a multiplicity of unique, funny, eclectic, and often Sonoma-centric items. And candy, of course, vintage candies that take you back to your childhood.
Heidi’s business plan is simple, and she adheres to it all day, every day — a discipline made easier as this business plan hangs over the cash register: “We just want you to be happy.” She tries to give something away for free every day — to people who deserve such. Recently Heidi engaged a 10-year-old boy in a surprisingly long and involved conversation about his relatives visiting for Easter vacation. It was a sweet as baseball card bubblegum, except he didn’t have enough money for the last pack of stickers. After Heidi gave back his few coins of change, she handed him the $4 pack of stickers, and told him he was a nice boy. He walked out with a smile.