Judy Matheson opened J. Matheson Gifts, Kitchen and Gourmet on Colby Avenue in Everett in 1991. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Judy Matheson opened J. Matheson Gifts, Kitchen and Gourmet on Colby Avenue in Everett in 1991. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Everett’s gift guru knows exactly what her customers want

Judy Matheson’s store has been voted the best gift shop in Snohomish County five years in a row.

Judy Matheson is a master gift-giver.

And that’s no surprise — she’s been picking the perfect gift for 50 years.

Snohomish County seems to agree. Her shop — J. Matheson Gifts, Kitchen and Gourmet in Everett — has been voted the county’s best gift stop five years running in The Daily Herald’s Reader’s Choice awards.

The store at 2615 Colby Ave. has been a fixture in downtown Everett for nearly 30 years, offering an array of gifts and home furnishings.

What makes her gift shop the best? It’s her top-notch selection of merchandise and her award-winning customer service.

It’s also Judy herself.

“She is that gift-giver in her heart,” longtime customer Marsha Cogdill said. “She treats everybody with kindness and makes them feel welcome. That’s something you don’t get in most retail businesses.

“She’s one of a kind.”

Matheson has a knack for finding items her customers will love. She listens to them, taking notes when they tell her what they like and what they need. She goes to gift shows with customers in mind.

“My customers are like family,” said Matheson, who grew up in and still lives in Everett. “I go out thinking, ‘This would be great for Marsha,’ or ‘This would be good for Mary Ann.’ ”

Matheson’s has been Mary Ann Erickson’s No. 1 stop for any celebration — be that for birthday, graduation, anniversary, wedding or baby gifts — for more than 20 years.

“She’s just fantastic,” Erickson said. “She’s good at what she does. She knows her customers, she knows what they like, and she knows what’s popular or what would be popular. She makes every accommodation that you need.”

Matheson’s prices beat Amazon.com. She doesn’t mark up her prices just to mark them down for a sale. After nearly three decades in business, she has great credit, so she can negotiate deep discounts for her merchandise and pass those savings on to her customers.

She is the one to open the store and the one to close it Monday through Saturday.

“It’s important when you’re a store owner that you’re there, because you hear what the customer wants,” Matheson said. “It makes a difference.”

She got her start in retail in Alaska. Her husband, Hugh Matheson, was stationed in the military for a three-year stint. When they returned to Snohomish County, Judy Matheson went to work for Jim and Nancy Mitchell of Mitchell’s Pharmacy in Lake Stevens. She spent 18 years at the pharmacy and even became a partner at their Granite Falls store.

Still, Matheson wanted to open a shop of her own.

“I had this dream and I had a lot of experience,” she said.

With the Mitchells’ support, Matheson opened J. Matheson Gifts in 1991.

Originally focused on unique gifts, Matheson’s business evolved to include home decor, kitchen wares, gourmet food, clothing and accessories, children’s toys and jewelry. She also keeps a selection of cards on hand for every occasion.

To find all her wares, Matheson heads to gift shows across the U.S. She also spends much of her free time looking at gift catalogs for what may be the next hot seller. She jokes that she doesn’t read novels before bed — she reads gift catalogs.

“I read gift catalogs all the time — as a matter of fact I am in bed right now with several getting ready for the (next) gift show — to keep up with all the latest trends,” Matheson said.

Some of those hot sellers: the Bananagrams word game, Cookina reusable grilling sheets and the Spoonk mat for acupressure and massage.

“It’s because we believe in them, and then it’s easy to sell them,” Matheson said. “I have friends who tell me ‘Judy, you could sell ice to an Eskimo’ — and if I believe in it, that’s the truth.”

Most of the items the store sells are made in the U.S. “We try to stay away from China, but it’s hard,” she said.

She also sells stuff by locals like the Find It game by Snohomish’s Bob Knight, watercolors by Everett’s Marsha Cogdill (the longtime customer), and haiku collections by Mukilteo’s Steve K. Bertrand.

In 2005, Matheson opened a second store — J. Matheson Kitchen and Gourmet — just down the block. The second store was in business for five years before she decided two stores was one too many. So, in 2010, Matheson redesigned and renamed her gift store to make space for kitchen wares and gourmet foods.

A fixture at the store is Poco, a 13-year-old Lhasa Apso-Yorkie mix. She sits at the counter where customers ring up their purchases. Some customers will stop by J. Matheson just to see Poco.

For a time, the store had a “Hugh’s Corner.” That’s where she’d feature the items her husband scouted out at gift shows. Now that he’s retired — he was part owner of Quantum Windows & Doors and customized the windows and doors at J. Matheson, plus all the fixtures you see hanging above the aisles — he has more time to help out with the store. He cleans, does the books and walks Poco. He also makes jewelry, which you can buy at the shop.

Hugh accompanies Judy on her trips to about 12 gift shows a year.

“I look for new and unusual things,” he said. “I’ve struck out on a few occasions, but now Judy has the sense to say no when I come up with a crazy idea.”

Cogdill has been a customer since the shop opened. Whenever she needs a gift or a greeting card, she goes to J. Matheson’s.

Cogdill no longer drives, so Matheson is her personal shopper — a service available to all customers. Matheson not only picks out a gift and a card, but wraps and ships the gift via UPS.

Matheson, 73, said she has no plans to retire. She’s making special plans for the store’s 30th anniversary next April.

“I do have a passion for what I do,” she said. “It’s all about finding things that customers love. ‘Judy, you’re so wonderful’ or ‘Judy, your gifts are so well-received.’ That’s gratifying to me.”

If you go

J. Matheson Gifts, Kitchen and Gourmet, 2615 Colby Ave., Everett, is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday. Call 425-258-2287 or go to www.jmatheson.com for more information.

J. Matheson reopens after shutdown

The Daily Herald’s profile of J. Matheson Gifts, Kitchen and Gourmet was written months before the coronavirus pandemic forced it and many other businesses to close.

J. Matheson’s Gifts, Kitchen and Gourmet reopened June 8 with Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan.

“We’ve been busy all week,” owner Judy Matheson said. “Our customers are so delighted that we’re back. Customers have told us all week long that the store was their first outing. It’s the first time they’ve ever gone out since this started. They say, ‘Judy, we’re glad that you’re here’ and ‘We were so worried that you might close and never open.’”

With many of her customers at high-risk to contract COVID-19, Matheson doesn’t take any chances. All customers are required to wear masks. A sneeze guard has been installed at the counter. Her floors are marked with tape to follow the 6-foot rule. She is careful to wipe surfaces down with disinfectant.

“I’m glad that we were off,” Matheson said. “I agree with Jay Inslee wholeheartedly. He’s doing a wonderful job, and that’s why we are as safe as we are, because he shut down early and we’re abiding by the rules.”

Even when the storefront was closed, Matheson was taking gift orders for customers over the phone or by email. She was there seven days a week to make any sale she could. If they couldn’t be picked up or shipped in time, the Mathesons delivered the gifts themselves.

Even so, sales dropped by nearly 90% during the coronavirus shutdown, so Judy and husband Hugh Matheson had to put some of their own savings into the store. Matheson managed to get a PPP loan to pay her employees’ salaries while closed — she doubts the store would have survived without it.

“We’ve had to put in our own money to get through this,” Matheson said. “Hopefully we’ll make up for that in the future. I’m just going to be cautious with what I order now. Sales are creeping up now, and we just hope it will continue to be that way.”

Longtime customer Mary Ann Erickson said she’s worried that Matheson’s might still close because of the economic impact of the virus. She’s one of the customers who ordered gifts while the storefront was closed.

“It’s an Everett institution, and if anything were to happen, where are we going to go?

“I am worried that a lot of places are going to close. Everett really isn’t a thriving downtown retail community, so we need to support every bakery, every grocery store that we can. I love Everett, and I don’t want to have to go outside Everett to buy things.”

— Sara Bruestle

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