Gift shopping should never be about settling; the experience should be a gift in and of itself. One should feel warmly welcomed, surrounded by an array of such amusing wonders that the hard part is choosing; the memory of the purchase adds joy to the presentation. And if you wind up spending less than you’d expected and have a tad left over for coffee or a glass of wine, so much the better.
Karen Clark Adin understands. “My basic gifting tenet is that giving gifts, including gifts to yourself, is all about the exchange of energy. If it’s your birthday and I go into a store able to spend $15 and find something for $20, the angst goes with the gift. But if you find that perfect treat for $12, the joy comes with it, too. Gifting is about positive loving energy; Bop to Tottom is about making it accessible to more people. It’s not about money, it’s about love; that’s where I started and it’s still what I go by.”
Karen grew up in Syracuse and graduated from SUNY Cortland, then wandered for a while, and everywhere she went, she was drawn to marketplaces as the heart of a community’s culture. After living in Boston, she resettled in the Hudson Valley and found work at a small family-run upholstery shop in Rhinebeck. “We did everything for the home—drapes, cushions, furniture—until they went out of business after a family tragedy,” she says.
The authentic humans that come in are so delightful—great loyal customers who know and acknowledge that shopping locally is critical to the community.
”–Karen Clark Adin, owner
“Upholstery shops are like blacksmiths—you don’t see many of them any more.” She went on to work for Yink Ink, which sold hand-painted childrenswear, and then to manage Anyone Can Whistle, the onetime retail outpost of Woodstock Percussion.
Her experiences left her with a passion for craftsmanship and quality, and a burning desire to open a business of her very own. And she knew right where she wanted it to be, having fallen in love with the rich history and soulful architecture of Kingston’s Stockade District.
That was in the late 1990s, and when Karen told people what she wanted to do, they laughed and then looked worried when they realized she wasn’t joking. Kingston was still reeling from the loss of all those IBM jobs earlier in the decade, and Uptown felt like a cross between a ghetto and a ghost town.
“I was so charmed by Uptown,” she says. “Everybody thought I was absolutely crazy. But I thought having a store there would just be awesome.”
“Gifting is about positive loving energy; Bop to Tottom is about making it accessible to more people
.”–Karen Clark Adin, owner
Awesome possibilities, of course, are only brought into reality by those who dare—and Karen dared.
She jumped in with both feet, becoming president of the Kingston Uptown Business Association, founding the still-thriving Kingston Farmers Market, and doing everything she could to be the proverbial change: She’s served on the Ulster Community College Foundation, Inc. Board, the Arts Alliance of Ulster County, Hudson Valley Aids Auction, Friends of the Senate House, Ulster County Chamber of Commerce, YWCA, Kingston Tourism Task Force, City of Kingston Board of Ethics, and the Ulster County School to Work Program. She’s currently on the Board of Trustees for SUNY Ulster.
Meanwhile, she’s been growing a destination shop. “I just let the store evolve and have a life of its own,” she says. “Besides locals, we have a slew of customers who don’t live here but stop in every time they pass through and say hello. For instance, I know I’ll see Roz from Long Island once a month. Her son-in-law drives her up here; she’s 89 years old. The authentic humans that come in are so delightful—great loyal customers who know and acknowledge that shopping locally is critical to the community.”
Regulars never know what they’re going to find. “I love the variety. I get so excited seeing the newest things people come up with; so many are hysterical,” Karen says. At the moment, she’s enjoying the results of a candle company’s scent-naming contest. “They asked their customers for suggestions. So now we have ‘Tiger King: Smells like meth and that bitch Carole Baskin;’ we have Quarantine, which smells like ‘Zoom calls that should have been emails,’ and ‘Class of 2020,’ which smells like ‘The longest senior skip day.’ If you lose your sense of humor, forget it; you’re going down.”
The pandemic has put a temporary halt to one of Karen’s favorite parts of the job—traveling around to shop for products in person. “Merch is not easy to come by these days,” she says. “All the trade shows were cancelled, which is usually where buyers find cool things, so we are all resorting to online, paper catalogs (yes, companies have started printing them again!), and many phone calls, texts, and pictures. Much different than seeing merch in person. Challenging, to say the least.”
But she’s never been one to shirk a challenge or ignore a reality, and Bop to Tottom is now your go-to outpost for the quintessential pandemic accessory. “Masks!” she says. “We have the most amazing masks: rhinestones, sequins, tie-dye, emoji; you name it, we’ve got it. I mean, sea creatures, jungle animals—just a really extraordinary selection.”
Bop to Tottom has been awarded Best Gift Shop awards from Hudson Valley Magazine and the Daily Freeman. A measure of customer loyalty, the shop continues to thrive without e-commerce. “We are old-school and believe in human interactions, since we are all social beings; however, as a result of COVID, we are currently in the process of putting an e-commerce site together,” Karen says.
In addition to her merchandise, Karen curates her sales team with exquisite care. “I look for authenticity in a person,” she says of her hiring standards. ”Be real—no haughtiness or pretense whatsoever. The candidate needs to be human, with a sense of humor; if the individual is real, original, and authentic I can pretty much train them to do anything. All candidates audition for several days to see if all of us are compatible.”
In 2015, Bop to Tottom relocated to a bigger spot on Wall Street. Karen is eager to see what kind of Uptown will emerge from the churn of the pandemic and accompanying real estate boom, and is determined to keep her own focus right where it’s always been— providing a mecca for comfortable, affordable fashion and fun for all ages, a place where Kingston residents bring their guests to show off what they most love about living here. Bop to Tottom is a love match of quality and wit. “It’s about building community, that is what we all need to be doing,” she says.
“More than ever, same as ever. We are all in the same storm, but some are in a yacht and some in a rowboat. A strong community gives people the faith and belief that we will all be all right.
“You do good things and you can’t go wrong. You just never lose that way. And every single one of us needs as much good karma as we can get.”
bop to tottom
334 Wall Street, Kingston