"I would rather die for my freedom than be a slave to my fertility," says the outspoken owner of a new midtown business. January 1993 marks the 20th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a decision which continues to inspire hope among its supporters and anger among its detractors. For Denise Evangelista, owner of Choice's-A Gift Shop for the Politically Correct, the Supreme Court's decision 20 years ago set the stage for a struggle to which she remains committed.
Evangelista told us that the right to choose is and will continue to be the inspiration behind her shop at 2417 K Street where we caught up with her recently to learn more.
On its face, Choice's appears to be a somewhat radical departure from the relative security of Evangelista's previous 16-year career in and around the decidedly mainstream real estate business. She had spent eight years working with titles and escrows and another five years working with a land development company, before finally striking out on her own as an independent broker in 1989.
Upon entering the shop, one sees the immediate impression of another t-shirt/ button store quickly challenged by the thought-provoking nature of the selections filling the shelves and walls. Evangelista personally encourages each new patron to browse and read and not to worry about leaving the shirts unfolded. "All of the products contain a message and I want people to feel free to explore and learn at their leisure."
"Choice, and the freedom it implies, is fundamental to every person's life and, as such, should be at the center of mainstream thought," says Evangelista. In her view, the decisions we make about the environment, about where we wish to live, about transportation and community development and a host of other quality of life issues, are all manifestations of our freedom to choose. As one of the many signs in the shop announces, "Freedom Means Choice."
Among some of the more memorable politically correct statements on her shelves is: "Live simply so that others may simply live," and "If you can't trust me with a choice, how can you trust me with a child?" Evangelista is also quick to point out that there is a lighter side to the messages, as in the popular bumper sticker, " My karma ran over my dogma."
Evangelista had been seriously thinking about opening a shop of her own for over five years. She told us, however, that "everything just seemed to come together about four months ago" when she dusted off a business plan she had prepared years earlier while still working for a local development company. Then, with the help of a close friend, Karen Indreland, she took the plunge. "Like so many other people working in larger businesses or bureaucracies, I got stuck someplace where I thought there was greater promise than there turned out to be. This shop, on the other hand, represents what I believe and allows me to more fully and creatively use my business knowledge and experience."
A "pro-environment, pro-choice, pro-peace" statement boutique was not Evangelista's early favorite. However, she nonetheless credits her work with Planned Parenthood with having given her the courage, born of a fuller understanding of and respect for freedom, to take a chance on Choice's.
"This shop has opened the door for me and I want to go as far as I can with it," she says.
Evangelista says she thrives on the fast pace that setting up a business requires and has not forgotten her original plan to market her fitness program in Sacramento, plan which she put on the back burner after an automobile accident a year ago. Not one to settle for contentment, Evangelista is clearly a risk taker with her eye on the future.
For her part, Indreland, has brough her own business experience in the Choice's equation. In addition to making the shop's specialty women's felt and straw hats, through KADI, a joint business venture with her husband David, she markets her custom-made bridal veils and hats in at least 15 states. She also does private tarot readings, which can be arranged by appointment at Choice's. Evangelista agree with Indreland's assessment that the solid friendship which they have established is the primary glue tht keeps the business running smoothly, adding that "a healthy dose of faith in both our message and our customers really helps."
As to the location, Evangelista says she had considered several possible areas in Sacramento but decided on midtown due to the ease of access and growing customer traffic. "I have seen wonderful changes in the business climate in this section of town over the last two or three years. Midtown is undergoing a tremendous rebirth and I wanted to be a part of it."
Although Evangelista opened the shop only a few months ago, she has been pleased with the favorable response from new-comers to the shop. She notes that with City Bicycle Works and Planned Parenthood on either side of her shop and several small business and restaurants nearby, she gets a tremendous variety and number of visitors of all age groups, many of whom have later returned with their friends.
Entering the store as we finished our interview was Anessa Lewis, a graduating senior at CSUS majoring in anthropology. She told us that she had been in the shop before and came back because she liked what she saw. "I am an active member of Sac State Students for Choice involved in 'clinic defense' work and I can really relate to the philosophy behind the selection you have here."
Evangelista has also been pleasantly surprised by the frequent visits by people from outside the midtown area, such as Fair Oaks, Land Park and Greenhaven. She considers this as a strong indicator that the message is being heard and spread, which she secondarily notes is good for business.
Evangelista still keeps her hand in the real estate business as an independent real estate broker. But more and more, Choice's is where her time and energy are spent. Would she go back to the bureaucracy?
"No," she said without hesitation. "The feeling of self-reliance and empowerment that both Karen and I have gained reinforces my decision every day. I have no doubt that making the Choice's option available in midtown has also been the right choice for me."
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