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Sure there's a gift shop


The rule of thumb they told Connie Fails, mastermind of the Clinton Presidential Center gift shop, to go by was that 90 percent of a museum store’s merchandise should be somehow related to its franchise subject. So yes, the Clinton library gift shop will have a dancing, sax-playing Clinton figurine (think those Macarena-playing snowmen/pigs/you-name-it, only much, much less grating). And a Socks the Cat cocktail purse. And 50-cent tchotchkes for the busloads of schoolkids who’ll be coming through. But Fails, a Little Rock designer best known for her namesake store in Hillcrest, cast a wide net as she brainstormed ideas for Clinton-related merchandise, and the result is a store that reflects not just Clinton’s name and image, but his interests, priorities and accomplishments while in office. For instance, there’s a $30 binder for state-quarter collectors that features information on each state alongside room for its commemorative coin. (Clinton signed the legislation authorizing the state quarters.) There’s a selection of board games that Clinton especially liked to play, and CDs of music he kept around in the White House music room. The bookshelf contains obvious choices, like Madeleine Albright’s autobiography, as well as classics such as “The Imitation of Christ” that Clinton cited as favorites. Arkansas food items are for sale too, including McClard’s barbecue sauce and a special presidential library flavor of Riceland rice (sales will benefit the Backpacks for Kids program). There are also souvenirs of a more stately variety, such as a leather accent pillow embossed with a presidential design, statuettes of figures from Clinton’s presidency created by an Arkansas sculptor (who doesn’t need a miniature James Carville on the mantle?) and posters commemorating the victory celebration at the Old State House on Election Night 1992. Fails said she’s especially proud of the children’s area. It’s full of educational toys and activities that draw on Clinton’s interests in multiculturalism and racial and religious reconciliation, and his world travels. (We especially liked the First Ladies Fan, a set of bookmark-sized cards with each First Lady’s picture and biography that can be spread out like a fan.) “I wanted to make sure it was interesting and educational,” said Fails, who sold her own shop earlier this year to take over the Clinton store. Fails designed much of the merchandise herself, she said. “I would venture to say 90 percent had to be branded in some way by me,” she said. “A huge amount of stuff had to be created.” The store isn’t on the library grounds — as a for-profit venture, it needed a separate location so the library could preserve a hard-won business enterprise tax break — but is close by, in a renovated Civil-War-era building at 610 President Clinton Ave. Most recently it housed SOS Office Furniture, and Fails said it was also once the home of the Brandon Furnace company. “It’s one of those quirky things that happens and turns into a fabulous thing,” she said. Fails said she hopes the River Market location will help draw repeat business — people who visit the library, but then come back to the store on a different occasion, possibly bringing along friends or relatives. The store itself is relatively small, 1,200 square feet on the building’s first floor. That means most of the merchandise is stored in the basement, with just single samples of most items on display. But, Fails said, she’s used to arranging small spaces, and plans to move displays around frequently. “This is like a constant party for me,” she said. Workers have renovated the building, but Fails said she wanted to keep the decor true to the building’s era, and uncluttered. Walls are white with blue accents, ceiling fans are classic designs, floors are concrete. “I didn’t want to make the interior anything different except clean and crisp,” she said.

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