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A turn to explore 

Stepping into the gift shop/toy store/learning center that is Turn to Nature, I felt the reverence a science enthusiast would feel upon entering a laboratory. Or maybe it was more akin to the joy an anachronistic lover of ye olde world curiosities feels upon the discovery of forgotten relics. Whatever it was that gripped me, it sure as heck beat the frazzling, deadening terror experienced upon walking into an enormous chain store.

click to enlarge AU NATURAL :  Paul Karlen’s not sure whether he’s running a learning center, a gift shop, or a hybrid of the two, but whatever it is, it’s wonderful. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • AU NATURAL : Paul Karlen’s not sure whether he’s running a learning center, a gift shop, or a hybrid of the two, but whatever it is, it’s wonderful.

Black Friday and the corporate-marketing extravaganza that is the Christmas shopping season tends to leave me reaching for the latest edition of Adbusters—if there’s a used copy lying around a friend’s house. Locally owned Turn to Nature, however, gives wary consumers such as myself an opportunity not only to have fun while shopping, but to get an education. What big box store, pray tell, could bring you such items as the Mysterious Storm Predictor; Galileo Thermometers; or the Educational Toy of the Year nominee Perplexus?

Speaking with owner Paul Karlen from the loft overlooking the store, I learned that the Realtor-turned-shopkeeper has followed a vision that sets his establishment apart from the typical gift shop.

“We want to present a place that caters to all—whether young or old,” he said. “To provide options for consumers wherein they’ll find things they might not find at the major stores.”

While Turn to Nature is labeled as a gift shop, Karlen stocks well-made clothing, precious minerals, and the obligatory, albeit stylish, greeting cards. Walking through the aisles, it’s easy to forget you’re shopping, dazzled by the sensory overload. This writer, for one, was completely taken by The Bird Songs Bible, which comes complete with a comprehensive listing of birds, as well as an audio player to help identify our winged friends.

I was immediately impressed with the great variety and uniqueness of the items on display, as well as their quality. The little shop on Higuera features items you could, in fact, see yourself passing on to your grandkids. And with a sizable sales rack in the back, there’s a little something for everyone.

Karlen, who originally graduated from Cal Poly with a degree in architecture, explained that he’d always been interested in gift shops that gave a nod to science and the environment. He added that he’d also been interested in shops that have an atmosphere of learning and interactivity.

Karlen looks to give potential customers a well-rounded experience: “I want the shopper to learn while they shop, to interact with quality products. That is one thing we can provide that is so hard to find these days.”

Turn to Nature is at 786 Higuera St. in downtown SLO. Descriptions of their assorted product lines and other information can be viewed at

Fast facts

Local astrologers, there’s a meeting in your future. SLO Astrologers is getting together Dec. 6 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Coast National Bank Community Room, 500 Marsh St., in SLO, for an interactive workshop and group discussion. More info:

Intern Jason Keedy compiled this week’s Strokes and Plugs. Send your business news to [email protected].

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