When children walk into Zuma, a gift shop on Highway 1 specializing in arts and crafts, parents often caution them not to touch the fluffy white llamas and alluring wooden flutes. But Melanie Stone, an Inverness resident who opened Zuma nearly three decades ago, gently pushes back on such parental concerns. She loves to see locals and visitors interact with the pieces she hand-selects from all over the world.
Ms. Stone first moved to West Marin from Southern California over 40 years ago; relatives in Inverness told her that the sleepy coastal town would be a good place to raise her daughter. Having worked at a post office down south, she started her new life in Marin as an employee at the Inverness Post Office before moving on to waitress at the Inverness Coffee House.
When her stepmother, Marj Stone, offered her a job working in Window Shop and Bellwether, two gift shops she managed in downtown Inverness, Ms. Stone was skeptical. “I thought, a gift store?” she recounted, laughing at her younger self’s skepticism. But the work grew on her. “My step mother is an artist, and so she was very selective about design and display,” she said. “I enjoyed learning about that and appreciating it.”
But over the years, Ms. Stone has developed her own distinct style for display and products, which she described as “related to nature.” It is an aesthetic shaped in part by the area in which she works and lives. “I think being in West Marin enhances the natural materials that I tend to go for,” she said. “We’re surrounded by nature, and that’s what I love about living out here. So to have natural materials in a lot of the products enhances both worlds: inside and outside.”
After meeting local contractor Paul Korhummel and having a son, Nikolai, the family decided to travel the world for a year. They wound their way through Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, India and England. Her son celebrated his fourth birthday in New Delhi. Ms. Stone’s love of travel and appreciation for arts and crafts from around the world are on clear display at Zuma, which features palm-sized stone birds from Kenya in bright primary colors and woven baskets made of kelp harvested from beaches in Southern California.
When her family returned to West Marin in the early ’90s, Ms. Stone’s friend Connie Morse, a physical therapist and child educator, broached the idea of opening up a gift store in downtown Point Reyes Station. While Ms. Stone was travelling, Ms. Morse remembered, “she would send stuff she was gathering along the trip home to us, and I would look at these things and they were so beautiful. Meanwhile, I’m thinking maybe I’m ready to change careers. She comes home and needs a job, and we look at each other and said, ‘Maybe we should open a shop.’” In 1993, they did just that.
Zuma has always been housed in the same building on Highway 1, sandwiched between Marty Kanpp Photography and Flower Power, but it wasn’t always as expansive as it is now. When Ms. Stone and Ms. Morse first started, they rented space from Esther Silver in what was then a bookstore. Zuma was confined to the very back of the current store, in what is now a storage room.
Little by little, Zuma grew, and when Ms. Silver retired Ms. Stone and Ms. Morse were able to take over the entire space. They ran the store together for 19 years, until Ms. Morse retired due to familial obligations.
“Melanie has an incredible eye and she finds incredible things,” Ms. Morse said. Although many of Zuma’s wares are from around the country and the world, the shop also features some local artists like ceramicist Molly Prier. While in the past Ms. Stone has travelled to Indonesia to look for items, such merchandising trips are too expensive for a single store, she said.
Instead, she goes to wholesale gift shows and craft shows twice a year to source her goods. “I buy things that I would like,” Ms. Stone said. If a vendor tells her that an item is a best-seller, it actually drives her away. “I don’t want people to find things here they could get somewhere else,” she explains. She said that both locals and tourists patronize the store, especially around Christmas, the busiest season. Jewelry, she said, is the store’s best seller.
Zuma is named after a beach near Malibu, Calif. and was nearly the name of Ms. Stone’s son. “When my son was born, my mom wanted to name him Zuma,” she said. But though she thought the name was too much to foist on a young boy, Ms. Stone decided it would be a good fit for the store. “We say we have everything from Z to A,” she laughed.