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Chicken Lipps Even Found the Right Stuff for an Astronaut
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Store owner Linda Oken shows off some of her eye-catching fashions for children.
 
 
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Saturday, September 9, 2023
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KATE DALY

The brightly colored fliers posted around Ketchum are hard to miss: Store closing sale, 60 percent off everything.  They are for Chicken Lipps, the children’s boutique Linda Oken has owned for 37 years.

“I had a good run,” she said.

That includes persevering during challenging retail fluctuations because, she admits, she didn’t know what else to do.

 
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Linda Oken stands by the Brio train set that’s been there for 37 years.
 

“I really liked what I was doing.  I loved the kids.  I never felt like I had to go to work,” she said.

Oken has outlasted most other tenants located downstairs in Giacobbi Square.  She recalls Jane’s and shops that featured art, jewelry, western apparel, coffee, ice cream, teriyaki chicken and pizza coming and going over the years. Some moved on to larger spaces; others went out of business.

Caught by surprise, she now finds it’s her turn to leave so Chateau Drug can expand.  Her target date to vacate is by Oct. 1.

When Oken took over the children’s store that was operating there in 1985, the California native was 45, divorced, and relatively new to retail.

 
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Chicken Lipps has everything in the store marked down 60 percent.
 

“I first moved here in the early ‘70s and I was a ski bunny with two kids, and it was crazy here,” she recounted. “And then I moved to Maui and taught there and I was a sun bunny and a special education teacher.”

When she returned to Ketchum, she did some substitute teaching and sold special ed toys before buying the children’s store with a partner.  They started out selling basics, such as T-shirts and shorts.  Later, Oken took over sole ownership and added gifts, costumes, and fancier clothing lines that included glitter, sparkles and feathers.

“I’ve always been [fashion] forward thinking,” Oken said.

The whimsical name Chicken Lipps was inspired by a shop in Santa Barbara.  Oken felt the animal theme fit right in with the other local stores--Elephant’s Perch and Duck Soup.

 
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Linda Oken holds a lovey, a popular item for newborns who want a little bit of comfort at bedtime and in other situations.
 

Back then there was no Twin Falls or online. When people did shift to big box stores and shopping online, Oken had to change because she couldn’t compete with Old Navy and the Gap.

“I’d tell people, ‘You don’t need anything in here, but you might find something you didn’t know you were looking for.’ ”

Oken says her best customers are the families who come to the Wood River Valley for a couple of weeks in the summer or winter.  Those parents can be counted on to promise their kids a shopping trip reward– “I’ll take you there after you get off the mountain.”

Actors Bruce Willis and Demi Moore were customers. So was astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who bought a scaled-down orange NASA uniform for his grandson.

Oken fondly remembers participating in the fashion shows on ice in Sun Valley in the late 1980s and early ‘90s.

In the ‘90s she opened up Chicken Lipps branches in Boise Town Square and Park City.

“I thought I’d be a chain,” she said.

But, between all the traveling back and forth and hiring extra people, she went broke on both of those stores.

“This is the one that kept me going.”

For years, Oken enjoyed the routine of walking to work from her home in Warm Springs.  Now that she’s in her eighties, she drives.  She still likes chatting with and assisting shoppers, and delights in finding out what a small world it can be.  One day, for instance, an Australian walked in, they got to talking and quickly realized a mutual connection through Oken’s sister-in-law living Down Under.

Over the years Oken’s grandchildren have helped out at the shop during their visits.  Recently, one of them bought an outfit to wear to a Taylor Swift concert.

These days the merchandise supply is dwindling as curious shoppers stop by, drawn in by the sandwich board sale signs festooned with balloons. One of their first sights is a Brio train set that has sat on the same table in the same spot of the store for 37 years.

“It has everyone’s DNA on it,” Oken laughed, noting women who are now mothers share memories of playing with it when they were kids. Even as she was talking, a woman called asking to buy the train set. Then someone else wanted it.  Too late.  Already sold to the first bidder.

What’s next for Oken?  She’s not sure.  She likes to garden and cook at her A-frame house but is considering moving out of state to live closer to family. 

She foresees visiting one of her favorite places in Hawaii and is wondering how, if there’s any store inventory left, she could ship it to Maui to help out fire victims in Lahaina.


 

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