I’m a sucker for a good deal – always have been. Add a sale sticker or call it an outlet, and I’m all over it.
The Mary Lake-Thompson outlet in downtown Oroville is one of Butte County’s best-kept secrets for gifts, home décor - and good deals.
Mary Lake-Thompson is an Oroville artist whose small greeting card business in the late-80s has grown into a multi-million kitchen and giftware company with a national following that includes Oprah Winfrey. You’ll find Lake-Thompson’s classic, yet whimsical items in thousands of gift shops, national parks, museums and resorts, as well as major retailers like Wayfair, Macy’s and Hallmark.
On a recent trip to her store, charming hooked pillows and rugs featuring her dog designs and catchy summer slogans hung in the window. Though small in size, the store (once the town’s public library) is filled with gorgeous displays showcasing her collections. Most items are 50 percent of retail prices, and some end-of-season items and seconds include even deeper discounts.
Lake-Thompson’s products feature farm animals, flowers, bikes, bees, seasonal holidays, and kitchen and garden designs, and the store is artfully arranged by those seasonal themes and collections. I usually visit the store a few times a year to stock up on unique gifts for holidays, birthdays, and hostess gifts. Her products—which include hundreds of items from scented soaps, linens, and baking mixes to paper goods, kitchenware, ceramics and more—make a substantial gift with an inexpensive price tag.
Her best-selling flour sack tea towels have been a favorite of mine for years. Made from super-soft white flour sack material, these lightweight towels are extremely absorbent, large, and printed with her beautiful designs. A set of two towels typically retails between $18 to $20; the outlet price is $8.75. Factory seconds of these towels are featured in bins for only $1.95. Her pretty linen napkins are often sold as greatly reduced seconds, too.
Today, I found her stylish rendition of bees on napkins, notepads, totes, and her ever-popular melamine plates, which, along with the melamine platters, are a company best-seller. I saw creative designs for camping, BBQs, mixed fruit and those cute bees. A few years back, I snapped up crab plates and platters for dinners and crab feeds.
You can also find one-of-a-kind décor pieces, jewelry, and art that Lake-Thompson brings into the store from the many gift shows she attends. On my trip, it included a series of Audubon bird prints and unique necklaces. The prints were stunning and a great price.
I got to talk with Mary Lake-Thompson on my visit—you can often find her in the store or its back room working with her designers. She’s a lively, blue-eyed grandmother who explains that she’s been an artist since childhood and loves telling stories through her artwork. She describes her design aesthetic as European, with clean Scandinavian lines. Her designers add descriptions like country folk, country kitchen, eccentric, fun and whimsical. That clean, classic look is what I think makes her products so popular.
That popularity has led major retailers and companies to ask for licensing agreements and custom design work. She’s created work for Eddie Bauer, Pottery Barn, Williams Sonoma, Disney, Paula Deen, and even the White House, among others. She even created a special recipe towel for President Obama’s special honey ale a few years back.
You won’t want to miss the store’s annual holiday sale in November. People from hours away drive for hugely discounted items. Check the store’s Facebook page for dates and details.
As for my trip, I ended up with bags filled with tea towels, notepads, linen napkins, raspberry jam and a box of matches with a cute Audubon bird design. I have a thing for Audubon birds. I might just have to go back for those prints.