Anthropologie and Creative Kidstuff have some company at the slow-to-get-going new Shops at West End in St. Louis Park. Love Culture is open, and ready to give H&M and Forever 21 some competition. Did the sign on that t-shirt table really say $2.90 each??! This fast growing, fast fashion chain was founded just two years ago in Los Angeles and now boasts 23 stores in 11 states. West End is Minnesota's first. The store is big and bright with lots of trendy temptations for less than $50 – heck, many less than $30 – like buckle ankle boots, sweater dresses, long tops, leggings and plenty of basics and accessories. Just be sure to try things on: the return policy is not-so-friendly and some items, like the $35 boots, are final sale – even at regular price. Still, great to have a new player in town!

Add three more addresses to Hot Mama's ever expanding empire. Today the Edina-based boutique chain announced plans to open in Eden Prairie (next to Kona Grill) in March, with two more openings to follow in April at Hilldale Mall in Madison, Wis. and the new Shops at West End in St. Louis Park. That will bring the total to 16 Hot Mama stores throughout the Midwest – seven in the Twin Cities.
It's great to see a local husband and wife team succeed – it was just five years ago that Megan and Mike Tamte opened their first store in 50th & France, having not even decided whether or not to offer maternity apparel. Now, they've got the formula down: serve moms during pregnancy and beyond by making it easy for them to shop for hip, contemporary clothes. That means sales associates that double as babysitters, toys, video games, plenty of seating and a free flow of animal crackers. Genius. Hot Mama was the pioneer – even Old Navy has play tables now. But Hot Mama has figured out how to make moms – and kids – comfortable. And apparently, they've figured out how to conquer a recession. The Tamtes told the St. Paul Pioneer Press in October that their strategy is to expand when no one else is, which gets them lower rent and more flexible deals. They've also lowered their price points.
I just hope they don't lose focus on the fashion. The last few times I was in, the selection was underwhelming. The racks were messy. Animal crackers are great and all, but if the jeans and tops don't make me feel hot, I'm not buying.

I've heard from a few independent retailers that have been surprised by the dismal response to various coupon promotions this holiday season. Everyone wants a deal…but not so much that they're willing to carry a flier or an email or a postcard into a store? I carry a zippered pouch in my handbag, stuffed with $10 rewards cards and 25% off vouchers…and still, they don't always make it to the cash register. I forget or I don't have the right card at the right time – all that paper can be a pain. But I certainly don't want to discourage stores from extending deals – especially the ones that reward frequent shoppers, which seems to be the targeted direction retailers are heading. I do find that sometimes mentioning a discount received in the mail or via email or Twitter is enough to get the credit at the counter. But not always. What's the answer? What types of promos work best for you?
(AliShops Holiday Passport holders, you still have two more days to take advantage – don't let those discounts go to waste!)

Technology experts Meghan Wilker and Nancy Lyons of the Geek Girls Guide entered the FM107 studio for our Shop Girls radio interview pecking away at their iPhones. The minute the On Air light went on, they flipped me: recording our interview on one of those adorable little Flip video cams, which they consider one of the best things to happen to mothers since all-day kindergarten. You want to be friends with these two. They're with-it, working moms on the cutting edge of technology, but are able to talk about, well, geeky matters in an entirely approachable way. Here are a couple of the cool new things they told me about for iPhone devotees: The Owle Bubo, an attachment that turns the iPhone 3GS into a higher quality, more flexible video camera, and a couple of must-have apps that moms can feel good about using to bribe – er, educate – young kids: Baby Flash Cards and the pro-vegie game Pickin' Time. Geek Girls speak fashion too: they turned me on to Polyvore, a cool website where you can catch up on the hottest trends and actually mix and match pieces to create looks. Want more? Listen to a podcast of the Geek Girls on Shop Girls (Hour 1, Dec. 19).

IMG_0186 Nothing like a little early morning gift buying competition for Fox 9 News to get the shopping started before sunrise. Found some really festive gifts at ATAZ like a set of Santa and Rudolph plates for $36 and mini silver ornaments in a green box stamped with Fa La La (it's all about the packaging). If you need hostess gifts, dash to Crate & Barrel for for mini Santa bags filled with rice krispie treats or chocolate – $9.95 or $11.95. StyledLife has value priced gifts already wrapped and good to go – I fell for the patent leather gloves, just $38. And if you know a fur lover, they've got these cool mini fox and minks under $50 that you could wrap around a wrist or neck. Ampersand's Apothecary is stocked with $50 under 50. And I'm feeling the magic of the season (or, better about a bad hair day) in this fur trimmed $90 cap from Len Druskin. Shop on!

Today is not the last day you're going to offer discounts, retailers. You know it. We know it. So let's stop with the frantic emails and tweets and so forth. As I wrote in my Savvy Shopper column, discounting is in full effect this holiday season, but the approach is to make it seem exclusive (is anyone not the Gap's friends & family?) rather than to stage store-wide sales. But the "today only" and "last day for discounts!" declarations are just nonsense. I've gotten a last day discount from J. Crew every day for the last two weeks. We want the deals. We'll buy when we're ready. Cut out the games.
Meanwhile, some deadlines are for real, like shipping with Christmas delivery. The National Retail Federation reported today that for two thirds of retailers, Dec. 18 is last day to order with guaranteed delivery by Dec. 24 at no extra charge. But the best day this week to order online is Thursday, Dec. 17, the first ever Free Shipping Day. This effort is really gaining steam: more than 600 retailers, large and small, are participating.

LushhanukkahAmid all the red and green, LUSH is throwing the Hanukkah crowd a bone. Make that, a bomb. Introducing the Better Than a Blintz Gift, a blue, dreidel-shaped box packed with four bath bombs for $19.95. It's fun, it's festive, it's fat free – unlike that gold-wrapped gelt. My only suggestion to LUSH: next time, check your ethnic food references with the token Jew in the office. It's latkes for Hanukkah. You've got a year to come up with a catchy new name. Latke lotion, anyone? The greasy smell lasts longer than eight days…



So let me get this straight: StormSister Spatique in St. Paul is inviting women to bring the contents of their beauty junk drawer to the store. That's right, all of it. Owner and product fanatic Becky Sturm will clean up your stuff – those many lotions, potions and serums you bought or got for free and used once or not at all. She'll tell you what to keep, how to use it and what to toss. She'll even take care of recycling the throwaways. Then, Sturm will reward you for her efforts with samples and a voucher good for 50 percent off one product.
I love it when retailers make the effort.

Anthrofitting It's never made any sense that stores anxious to sell lots and lots of clothes furnish their fitting rooms with two lousy hooks. We're somehow supposed to hang our own clothes and the garments we want to try on these stubs. And they wonder why clothes end up in heaps on the floor. Anthropologie has figured it out. The fitting rooms of its stellar new West End store have a built in closet (sans door) with two bars and shelf so customers can load up their potential buys. Easy and convenient for the shopper; better for the clothes – and the salespeople that have to clean up the discards. Genius.

Willdefielck Calvin Klein model Will Defiel has lived in Minnesota his entire life, but he had never shopped at the Galleria. A Galleria virgin! Until Saturday, when I deflowered him. The Edina shopping center was a bit ritzy for his H&M taste, but he seemed to take right to it as store owners tripped over themselves to give him stuff – discounts, good service, a free shirt and tie. Good to be a model. Read more about Will's escapades with Calvin Klein, and the Galleria in the St. Paul Pioneer Press - soon.Willdefiel