Kathina Szeto recently changed the name of her gift shop from San Benito Bene to Bene Gifts Hollister. It wasn’t a drastic transformation but the one word she made sure to keep was Bene, which is short for beneficial.
She has been nothing but “Bene” in San Benito County as one of the longest standing businesses on San Benito Street in downtown Hollister for the past 10 years.
Szeto, who opened the 615 San Benito St. shop during the downturn of the economy in 2011, was just hoping at the time to be a part of the solution so that they could showcase what’s created in the area.
“I didn’t think about how long we would last,” she said. “I did not plan ahead in that way.”
Within that decade, Szeto has seen a lot of changes in the downtown area, especially businesses closing left and right. She said they’ve just been grateful for the community support.
“They have shopped with us, encouraged us, supported us from the very beginning and every step of the way they’ve always let us know how we could help them and they’ve been so generous with us,” she said.
Jen Rodriguez, director of tourism and hospitality at the San Benito County Chamber of Commerce, said having a retail business that has the capacity to be able to withstand a lot of changes and be able to pivot can be influential.
She mentioned that Szeto provides such a great service that people don’t have to travel outside of San Benito County or the City of Hollister to get quality gifts for people they care about.
“Kathina has always been so involved in our community and I think that also helps because people know when they go to her shop that they’re going to find good products and get great customer service,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez added that Szeto does a great job of collaborating with local businesses such as Marich Confectionery and Big Paw Olive Oil Factory in Hollister. The shop also features culinary, soaps, lotions and candles that are all natural.
“She’s always gone out of her way to make sure the community feels listened to and she provides what they are asking for,” Rodriguez said.
Szeto’s favorite part of owning the shop is that she loves getting to know her customers, planning for their needs and staying fresh and current. Over the years, she’s learned that her customers are very mindful with what they’d like to buy.
“They have something in mind, may not always know it, but when they see it they are happy, which in turn makes me happy,” she said. “I understand that time and convenience are big factors and [I] try to merchandise my shop so they can view items easily.”
The shop has traditions like free gift wrapping and does not charge for customizing gift baskets, another big-time saver for customers. For the entire month of July, she took 10% off any purchase to celebrate the 10-year anniversary.
But most importantly, she continues to build trust with her customers.
“They can depend on us for carrying the same wonderful local products for the past 10 years along with other artisan creations,” Szeto said.
Szeto didn’t anticipate the Covid-19 pandemic like most other business owners, but she had to scale down during slower times. She said they tried to stay tuned to current situations as they coincided with their customers’ needs.
She explored options to provide new services such as curbside pick-up and devoted time building their e-commerce website BeneGiftsHollister.com, which continues to help showcase their products and connect with customers.
Rodriguez said that Szeto also took advantage of the parklet program and used it for her benefit to have pop-up shops or sidewalk sales.
“She’s been a leader in the community to show other people how to be resilient and if you love your business, and love what you do, people will come out and support you,” Rodriguez said.
Szeto has heard so many stories about what it used to look like more than 30 years ago in downtown Hollister and the great memories that people still talk about with fondness.
She believes that the downtown area has evolved to have very friendly, diverse businesses and is optimistic that they can create new memories for the new generation.
“I hope we can continue to build a community space that locals and visitors want to bring families and friends to enjoy downtown Hollister like ‘back in the old days’,” she said.