Local Gift Store Marks Two Milestones at Once

File photo &nbsp&nbsp The Whales & Friends team gathered for the shop’s 30th anniversary in 2016.

Local Gift Store Marks Two Milestones at Once

Fine artist Christine Gonsalves was born in Alameda and grew up in the Oakland flatlands. 
“I always loved Alameda, so I moved back when I was 22 and in college,” said Gonsalves. 

After earning numerous degrees, her disapproving father asked, “What are you gonna do with all those art degrees?” 

Gonsalves said, “Everything!”

Fast forward to 2019; Gonsalves owns Whales & Friends, a successful gift store with two locations in Alameda, plus nature and arts-oriented wholesale businesses with her partner Steve King.

This holiday season Gonsalves celebrates two anniversaries: 33 years at her original store at 2060 Lincoln Ave., and the first year of her second location in South Shore Shopping Center. 

The name for the shop came from Gonsalves’ prior work with a non-profit dedicated to saving whales. Before “save the whales” became a mantra, Gonsalves and a group of artists display full-size replicas of the sea mammals to educate people on their magnificence. 

Delving into her artistic side, Gonsalves founded a company focused on creating nature-based jewelry. She then decided to combine her two passions of art and marine life conservation in the first Whales & Friends store founded October 1986 with an initial investment of $1,000. Gonsalves placed a whale skull in the window, painted the floor, filled the tiny store with unique merchandise and by year end her small, but mighty, enterprise had made $3,000.

Today Whales & Friends is regularly voted “Best Gift Store in Alameda.” Gonsalves and crew focus on customer service, offer complimentary gift-wrapping, birthday discounts and more, which helps explain the loyalty of the shop’s clientele.  

“I’m now seeing the grandchildren of my customers — not just as customers, but as helpers in the store,” said Gonsalves. “We like vendors that support artisans; anything educational, funny, clever, beautiful or unusual. I always want to offer new items because people come in to see us so regularly.”  

After last year’s successful holiday pop-up at South Shore, Gonsalves has decided to make the second location permanent.  

“South Shore has a lovely setting — big windows and trees outside with hummingbirds, and just across from the popular Trabocco restaurant,” said Gonsalves. “It feels like a community gathering place, plus gives us plenty of space to display our larger models, sculptures and Italian glass. And, we can bring in even more variety.” 

Whales & Friends, starts the holiday season with arcane items to celebrate Halloween. Trick-or-treaters are invited to stop at the gift store today during the shopping center’s celebration.
Soon after, both locations will focus on seasonal décor and ornaments, gifts for everyone on the list — and free gift wrap.

“My granddaughter calls Whales & Friends ‘The Sparkle Store,’” said Alameda resident Jan Schlesinger. “She knows that if she behaves herself she can sometimes go in and choose something.”

To learn more see www.whalesandfriends.biz.