December is the peak season for gift-giving, and many will spend the weeks leading up to Christmas or Hanukah scrambling from shop to shop, searching for that perfect gift.

Vanessa Schepis, owner of Alpharetta’s The Red Hound, understands that people are looking to give their loved ones a unique present — something they can’t find in big box stores or online — and stocks her shop with gifts you won’t find anywhere else.

The Red Hound’s inventory of home décor and gifts, from candles and bath goods, stemware to artwork and more, includes the work of more than 30 local artists and collections, like Houston Llew’s “Spiritiles.” And when you find that perfect gift, The Red Hound offers complementary gift wrapping.

While The Red Hound recently celebrated its first year in its new location, 211 Market St. in Alpharetta City Center, the shop has been around for nearly two decades and Schepis has been the owner since 2013. The prime new location is helping Schepis reach new heights.

 “When I bought the store, I could envision what I wanted it to look like,” Schepis said. “I could imagine everything from the flooring to the light fixtures, and I could envision people wandering in. Now, that has come true.”

Surrounded by restaurants, bars and other shops, The Red Hound has attracted more foot traffic and new customers. It’s one of the things Schepis loves about being in Alpharetta City Center.

Another is that everything is owned locally, giving the downtown a friendly hometown feel, something the big box stores don't. All the big chain stores feel the same, nothing special to their decor or product lines. With the big chains, when you’re in one of their stores, you often can't tell if you’re in Alpharetta, Atlanta or Texas, Schepis said.

“Here, everything has a unique feel,” she said. “When you come in, you’ll usually see me. I have kids that go to your schools, I've served on local PTA's, I’m a part of this community.

By shopping at the City Center, you’re not just supporting local businesses, you’re also supporting many female-owned businesses. The Red Hound, Hemline, Never Enough Thyme, Core 57, Dress Up, Exquisite Living and Anna Bella are just a few of the many women-led businesses at Alpharetta’s core.

“What used to be a small percentage of women in business, it now seems like everywhere I turn, there’s more and more,” Schepis said.

The high percentage of women-led businesses makes for a supportive business community. Women tend to be better listeners, empathizers, consensus builders, she said.

In practice, she said this means the Alpharetta City Center business owners are often looking out for one another and finding ways they can partner on events and share ideas. They share what shoppers are saying.

“The better everyone else does, the better we do,” Schepis said. “The more people who visit the City Center, the more people who will stumble into our store. It’s a totally different feel from my old location. I'm really happy to be here!”

For its part, Alpharetta offers a never-ending parade of events to attract shoppers to City Center. Just this month, the city will host its official holiday kickoff Dec. 6, with live music, photos with Santa and a tree lighting. The following week, the Alpharetta Chamber will host Sip, Shop and Stroll on Dec. 12.

With all the holiday cheer, Schepis said it’s a special time to own a gift shop.

“It warms my heart when I think about how many gifts we wrap and how much joy we bring to people during the season,” Schepis said. “So many gifts come from our small store.”

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