Another downtown Yazoo City icon ends an era with the closing of Cindi’s Gifts of Distinction after four decades of unique and personal shopping.
Owner Helen Nicholas is known throughout the Yazoo community for her fine attention to details, knowing what customers wanted and having a heartfelt connection to her many patrons. Since the 1970s, Cindi’s has helped furnish many homes with one-of-a-kind gifts and styles. In fact, most china patterns found in a local newlywed’s home were probably purchased at her boutique.
One thing is for sure, Mrs. Helen knew her stuff.
“And these are some beautiful oriental pieces,” she said, in a previous interview while giving a tour of her store. “You know what they always say, two oriental pieces to a room.”
To Mrs. Helen, her customers were like family. And she welcomed each one as if they were coming in for a visit or reunion.
“I love seeing people and meeting people,” she said. “I feel like they are old friends. I feel like they are coming to see me.”
Mrs. Helen opened Cindi’s on Main Street in 1972. Owning a boutique was her destiny. She felt being a business owner was meant for her.
“I just love this store, and I love the people,” she said.
DiAnn Crews, Mrs. Helen’s daughter, said Cindi’s first opened in a building next to where Grace Hardware is now located. Times were difficult at that point, DiAnn admits.
“She was newly opened and had taken a leap of faith and lost almost everything to a fire that started in the store next to Cindi’s,” DiAnn said. “She quickly set out to overcome this and moved into the old Morgan Drugstore building, which soon became home for Cindi’s.”
Cobie Watkins, Mrs. Helen’s granddaughter, said Mrs. Helen originally wanted to run a bridal registry and wedding planning business.
“She then expanded to include high-end home decor and children's things,” Cobie said. “I remember being told when I was little that she went to Atlanta on a train to be a wedding planner and was the first in the Mississippi Delta to do so, and I thought that was so cool.”
Mrs. Helen knew what worked in her store. She kept much of the same layout over the years. In a 2008 interview, she said the store looked almost exactly the same as when she first opened it.
The only changes Mrs. Helen embraced were the different trends, styles and types of merchandise that circulated through her store for 40 years.
But her best seller was her china. Her patterns were on most of Yazoo’s bridal registries.
“The china is my bread and butter,” Mrs. Helen said.
“I dare say there aren’t many homes in Yazoo City and surrounding areas that have not been touched by Cindi’s,” DiAnn said. “One of the greatest joys was to have a new bride to come in and let my mother show her china, crystal and stainless to choose their future pattern. Mom would spend as long as you wanted or needed to decide on that perfect pattern; and while a bride was there she would walk them all around the store to choose other items they would love to have to start their new life with.”
Cobie said she was surprised at the amount of china inside the store.
“When we closed the store, I think we counted between 150 and 200 china patterns left in the store that had accumulated over the years,” Cobie said. “She always told me that a young lady needed to have a nice set of china, and it's something I agree with now that I'm older.”
Mrs. Helen is also known for her willingness to get the customer what they always wanted. She made many personal orders for her shoppers, adding that “if you want it, I can get it.”
“Whatever they want, I order it,” she said. “I love doing that. I am going to do everything I can to help my customers.”
Cindy Stanford, Mrs. Helen’s daughter, grew up in the store and often witnessed her mother’s work ethic and dedication to her customers.
“With her determined spirit, she faced many challenges,” Cindy said. “She started her business as a single widow needing to provide for her two girls. She was willing to work beside you. She would never ask someone to do something that she wasn’t willing to do herself. She had to ‘start over’ in 1981. When a fire, in the business next door, destroyed everything that she had built. Throughout each adversity, Mom always said, ‘God has gotten me this far, I know that he will see me through.’”
DiAnn said Mrs. Helen was dedicated to her store, often never closing unless it was absolutely necessary. Mrs. Helen knows that value of hard work.
“There a few exceptions but not many,” Diann said. “Just back a few years ago she fell and broke her hip and the first thing she said coming out from surgery to the doctor was ‘do you think I can go to the store next week?’ She took great pride in store and her work.”
Since the 1970s, Mrs. Helen opened her doors faithfully with the hopes of helping someone find that perfect gift.
But all along, the connection with Mrs. Helen was the ultimate gift.
“I love this,” she said. “This is where I am going to be until the Lord stops me.”
“At the age of 89 it is time for her to stop,” DiAnn said. “Her memory is not as clear and her health is declining. It is time for her to rest. She has done so much for so many. We want only the best for her. Even now she still says ‘I think by next week I can go to the store.’”