Stepping inside Songbird Boutique is like stepping inside owner Jennifer Hill’s brain.
That’s what a customer told her one day inside her eccentric shop off of Fourth Street in Long Beach, part of the Retro Row community.
Hill understands why, considering the store is sectioned off with all types of eccentric themes like zombies or unicorns featuring matching goods.
But it is apparent from the boutique’s merchandise-crocheted earrings, a candle called Fart Extinguisher and a print of Ruth Bader Ginsburg-to the boutique’s name that Hill has built this business with a thoughtful, intentional eye.
While Songbird Boutique is the place to visit for those looking to purchase a one-of-a-kind gift, it’s the attention that Hill gives to her customers when they step inside that keeps people coming back.
“I love finding things that are different, or that make you laugh,” Hill said. “…Seeing people’s reactions when they find something they really like, just learning about people that live around your store, or, you become friends with your customers over the years, like they’ve all seen me pregnant with two different kids and so it’s almost like a family.”
The boutique was crucial in artist and writer Alice LeFae’s decision to move to California.
LeFae, who has been an artist her entire life, moved from New York City after living there for six years and found herself drawn to Songbird Boutique. She said that she loved the store so much, she knew she wanted to sell her work there.
At Songbird Boutique, LeFae said that Hill gives her the space to be creative and try things out as she sells at the shop.
But LeFae is careful with who she works with.
She explained that she needs to know the moral and ethical standards a person has before working with them.
It’s what makes Hill stand out.
“She’s always working to learn more and be a better person and a better business person and she’s already a great, amazing person,” LeFae said.
LeFae has since worked with Hill both as a seller and at the boutique, and commended Hill for creating such a welcoming shop that people can feel comfortable browsing around in.
Songbird Boutique has been open for 11 years.
The store’s name is an ode to Hill’s history with birds. She grew up in a neighborhood in Garden Grove called The Bird Cage off of Flamingo Drive. Hill’s mom loves birds, her aging grandfather fed them and her husband collected bird eggs when he was young, quickly amassing a wealth of knowledge on the species.
Hill would later have two English budgies at the store, as well as birds at her home.
Also at home are Hill’s two children, who had to adapt to virtual learning like Hill had to adapt to a quasi-virtual, later socially-distanced business.
It has not been easy for her youngest to make the transition to online schooling, and Hill has had her hands full helping them adjust, staying at during their schooling and heading to work when she can.
“It’s a lot,” Hill said. “But you know what, women are resilient. Right? We’re strong, and we can multitask. And my mom was a strong woman. I watched her and she had her own business…I knew that when I opened my own business, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. But, you know, I just wasn’t happy doing anything else. So I can truly say that I love what I do.”
But March had been frightening for Hill.
Like many business owners, the coronavirus pandemic brought a wealth of new protocols and sudden changes that people had to adapt to. Still, the possibility that she may lose her business was not something Hill was going to dwell on.
Hill had just launched a functioning website, something she had been pursuing for years that unexpectedly came at the right time. She turned Songbird Boutique into a literal window shop, complete with items with price tags on display through the windows that customers could message Hill to purchase.
“I just keep wondering if it’s going to end,” Hill said. “It’s just amazing, the support that I’ve gotten from my community.”
LeFae said that people were happy to return to the store when it reopened under limited capacity. She saw how much effort Hill had put into maintaining the business and engaging with the community.
“She always has ideas for how to make things new and fresh and exciting, and how to make people feel excited about life,” LeFae said.
While the coronavirus pandemic threw obstacles at Hill, all these months later have shown Hill her ability to adapt and get creative in order to maintain business operations.
She said that it has helped her analyze her business and become more of a critical thinker as opposed to an artistic one, and took pride in being surrounded by a good team of people who see her vision.
“I’m stronger than I think, [am] stronger than I thought,” Hill said. “I have always viewed myself as a strong person, but this has been a little much. I’m proud of my strengths.”