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Saturday, March 15, 2008 | Bits of tartan and a lighted shamrock in the window identify this Scottish and Irish memorabilia shop tucked among the smattering of stores greeting passengers who’ve crossed the bay on the Coronado ferry. For the week before St. Patrick’s Day, shop owners Jim and Marjorie Logan have pushed their Guinness-tinged gag gifts and shamrock-patterned socks to the front of the store.
The Logans are Scottish ex-pats who’ve lived stateside for a couple of decades — coming from Scotland to San Diego, with a three-year stop in New Hampshire.
“In Scotland, you get a lot of gray skies in the winter — it gets depressing,” Marjorie said. “But then we moved to California.”
The shop, Scottish Treasures, opened in 1998, but it began earlier as a traveling business when Marjorie, a.k.a. Mrs. Loganbeary, began dressing teddy bears in traditional Scottish tartans — the particular plaid patterns used to identify different Scottish clans — and selling them in booths at local Highland Games.
Now the Logans offer hard-to-find imported candy and treats, full Highland dress for sale or rent and CDs of popular Celtic artists. The merchandise is eclectic, from Irish to Scottish, from traditional china tea service to an inflatable St. Patrick’s Day beer cooler, from brooches used to fasten kilts to modern Scottish-designed necklaces.
San Diego, where meeting a native is rare, is a place for showcasing bits of home. In this shop on Coronado, the Logans often reminisce, having tacked behind the counter a computer printout picture of the famous Loch Lomand (and its yon bonnie banks). Jim, a retired aerospace engineer, wears a kilt of the Logan tartan — bright green and blue and red and yellow. And having the shop facilitates a bit of remembering with their friends from across the pond, and a bit of teaching for those stateside.
The Logans let voiceofsandiego.org behind the counter at Scottish Treasures this week to chat about the store and to expand to an international level the adage “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
So, what sparked these bears?
Marjorie: The bears? A sister-in-law coming down from Canada, and bringing two or three teddy bears with her, and telling me, “OK, we’re going to dress these.” And we dressed them, actually, as a bride because my niece was being married. So I dressed one as a bride and one as a bridesmaid, and then after that, I just suddenly had the idea: kilts on the bear. And nobody was doing kilted bears. You do see some in Scotland now, but 20 years ago, there was nothing.
This is how we got into the business, 20 years ago. I started dressing teddy bears with kilts. And it just grew from there. And then, we would take them to the Highland Games, and then we’d start adding more items. You know, ’cause you couldn’t just have the teddy bears. And, it grew from there and took over.
So, someone who’s buying one of these bears would be looking for their family tartan.
Jim: Exactly, yes, that was the idea.
Do you get homesick for Scotland?
Marjorie: Yes. We go back once a year.
Jim: That kills us. Especially the exchange rate. The trade —
Marjorie: The dollar is terrible and it’s even worse against the Euro now.
How does that hit your shop?
Jim: We import a lot of the packaged food — candy and stuff like that. And it just keeps going up and up.
What, if anything in San Diego, would you do when that moment of homesickness hits? A place that you go — maybe a place by the water — or a meal that you cook?
Jim: Haggis. (laughs)
Marjorie: We don’t have haggis very often.
Jim: We had an open house for the Ferry Landing, which involved the Scottish dance groups — Highland dancers, my granddaughter does that — and then we have a piper, which we draw on his talent. So that keeps us going.
And we have St. Patrick’s Day coming up here, this week. So that helps as well, to revive the old spirit.
Marjorie: There’s not really one place, but we live by the water, down in the Coronado Cays, and we look over to Chula Vista. And the birds. I like the quiet, but it’s not really so quiet now with the terns around. They are so noisy, I can’t believe it.
Who are your customers here?
Marjorie: A lot of the tourists, coming off the ferry, and the trolley tours. And then the locals. It takes the locals a long time to find us. Because, you know, the locals are not going to come down here and wander around.
Is it pretty often that someone has come from — you know, across the pond — and happens upon this place?
Both: Oh yes.
Jim: But, you know what, they don’t buy anything. (laughs) They say, “Oh, we can get this back home,” and I say, “Well it’s cheaper here.”
Marjorie: It depends, you know, how long they’ve been away. Because sometimes they’ll come in and buy some of the candy or the Irn-Bru drink (an orange-colored Scottish soda). Irn-Bru is the national drink of Scotland. We drink a lot more Irn-Bru than Coca-Cola and your different drinks.
Small business owners often end up with an arsenal of quirky stories or favorite customers. What’s one of those for you?
Marjorie: We’ve had different people who’ve come from the same place we come from, and we know the same places, the same people.
Jim: We have a lot of people who come in who think their name is Irish and we tell them they’re actually Scottish and they’re quite surprised.
What’s Scottish about San Diego?
Jim: Two pipe bands. At least two or three Highland Dance groups.
Marjorie: San Diego always has its own Highland Games, which are always held up in Vista. Scottish country dancing.
For Americans, is bagpipe music an acquired taste? Does it get a bad rap?
Jim: I’d say there’s something very stunning about the pipe music, that draws people. It gets their blood flowing. So many people say the pipes should always play far away, and the farther away the better. (laughs)
But you know, these were banned by the English (after a Scottish uprising) because they were declared as instruments of war. Because of the music — very stunning music.
Marjorie: I think the Americans are more inclined to enjoy the bagpipes than a lot of the Scots. I mean, to the Scots, it’s just — bagpipes, they’re always there and you don’t think much about it. So, just like growing up here with something you’re familiar with, and then when you move to another country you find you’re more into it.
Jim: ‘Course, you often see that. The Scots that are abroad are more Scottish than the ones at home.
Did you find that to be the case for you, that when you came to the States you found more ties to home?
Jim: We looked for the ties, OK. Because of the homesickness thing. You know, there’s National Tartan Day, April 6.
Marjorie: National Tartan Day is a much bigger day on the East Coast — it’s gradually growing on the West Coast. But you’ll find a lot of the senators, they’re going to Senate in their tartans that day.
What are you supposed to do on National Tartan Day?
Marjorie: (laughs) Wear tartan.