Washington has multiple gift shops that are filled with snow globes with tiny monuments inside, keychains bearing the presidential seal and T-shirts declaring “I heart D.C.”
In Cleveland Park, however, is a shop where the wares are far more colorful and eccentric.
As owner Susan Lihn puts it, Wake Up Little Suzie, the shop she opened in 1988, is “a little quirky.”
The brightly lit one-room shop has keychains in the shape of squirrels and raccoons, and lip balms shaped like sunglasses, penguins, whales and hedgehogs.
There’s Soap for Hipsters that smells of coffee, bacon and craft beer, and jewelry designer Lily In Flux’s handmade robot figurines made of found objects. Pottery and adult coloring books are also available, along with cookbooks dedicated to Nutella and Twinkie recipes.
The store, nestled in a charming, bustling part of Connecticut Avenue NW, has become a Cleveland Park staple. It’s across the street from the Uptown Theater, next door to the Firehook Bakery & Coffee House (which sells sandwiches, artisanal breads and pastries that some have raved about on Yelp), and a few doors down from the New American restaurant Ripple.
Wake Up Little Suzie — the name was inspired by the 1957 Everly Brothers song “Wake Up Little Susie” — also sells handmade jewelry.
“We have a wide variety of price points because I have a wide variety of clientele,” Lihn says. “We sell things for 12-year-olds and 92-year-olds.”
“It’s nice to deal with people that make things, and you build these relationships over time with people, and you watch them grow and watch how their stuff gets better. And they make new things and it’s exciting,” says Lihn, who also travels to buy pieces.
“Everybody is always like, ‘I’d love to go with you to a gift show. That must be so much fun!’ ” she says. “My standard response is, ‘It’s the most important and hardest work I do.’ ”
She’s known some customers since they were children and has employed several of them.
“When you’re in a place for a long time, you kind of become like the ‘Cheers’ of the neighborhood,” Lihn says. “Kids walk in and it’s like... You’re in college?! You’re getting married?!”
Joe and Meg Flippin of Chevy Chase enjoy visiting the store. They like checking out the work of local artists, Meg says.
“It’s a fun boutique and they have unique gift items.
“Not a lot of it is mass produced, and it’s well curated,” she says.
A New Jersey native, Lihn moved to Washington from Boston in the 1970s and opened a vintage clothing store on Capitol Hill called As Time Goes By.
“I loved it and I wore it,” Lihn says. “And I wanted to have my own business, and I just thought, Let me do this. So I just did it.”
After 12 years, however, she needed a change. She had already begun incorporating gifts into the vintage shop, and soon she was moving to Adams Morgan to start fresh in a more active area.
One day the Cleveland Park resident noticed some available retail space in her neighborhood.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, I can probably move my store over here,’ and I did,” she says. “And I’ve been here ever since.”