Maurie Allen, Captains Quarters, TC
Wendy Buhr, Ella’s,TC
Dawn Campbell, Boutique a la vie, TC
Annie Hill, Cherry Hill Boutique, TC
Brandy Malpass, Threads, Bay Harbor & Petoskey
PHOTOS BY MICHAEL POEHLMAN PHOTOGRAPHY
EXPRESS: How’d you get your start?
CAMPBELL: I was a nurse for 25 years actually and, though I enjoyed it, I spent 25 years figuring out how I could get creative and get out. It started weighing on me 10 years ago, and I walked through Mercato [Inside Building 50] and that was kind of the end or the beginning. I’ve been open six years now, and I’m a creative person trying to learn to become a business person. It’s a struggle for me but it’s what I want to do every day.
EXPRESS: Wasn’t there a period when you were a nurse, sang, and ran the store?
CAMPBELL: Yes,, worked seven days a week for three years.
ALLEN: I’m entering our 48th year in business and in fact I’ll have a real milestone in October when I’ll have 50 years on Front Street. I was transferred here by Montgomery Ward from Fort Wayne. Then after two years we had discovered Traverse City and, though they invited me to come back to open their new Fort Wayne store, we just fell in love with Traverse City and had three young kids, so we figured out a way to make it happen. Retailing is in my blood.
EXPRESS: Over all that time, when were the darkest days for retail in TC?
ALLEN: I’d say when that first [Cherryland] Mall opened in the late 1970s. Shopping indoors was new to the community and there were men’s stores in the mall. But then when the big mall came a decade later, there wasn’t a blip in our business. People just love downtown. It’s been totally reinvented and I hear from visitors every single day, “I can’t believe there’s a downtown like Traverse City.”
MALPASS: Threads is celebrating its 15th year this summer. Chris Jaconette opened it first for developer David Johnson in Bay Harbor and then purchased it herself. In 2008 she opened the Petoskey location. A couple years ago I was a stay-at-home mom, living in Chicago, with a background in fashion. Chris said she was looking for a buyer, and I thought this was something I could learn. We took a leap, and I started doing the buying with her. Last summer I became a partner. I’m on the front end of a big learning curve, but I just love the magic of buying.
BUHR: I started at ten, when I was selling cherries out of a wagon in front of Bilmar’s, which was a store in the very spot where my current store is now. When I was 22 I opened Trinkets, which sold vintage clothing and beads. I did that for eight years and then had my daughter Ella. I wanted to do something bigger, and I thought that this town was ready for something hipper. So I did away with the beads and opened Ella’s in a small space and did that for eight years. What I learned was after the first summer people were looking for sexy and fitted, but I had vintage clothing in just one size with not one dress that could fit everybody. So then I made a move to our bigger space – right when the economy died – and we decided to go the higher end route, sales are up, and now we’re opening a vintage store in the basement. It will be a mix of what we used to do and what we do now.
HILL: I started in 1997 in the space next to Wendy. I had two little preschoolers and was trying to figure out how I could go to their things at school and still work. I spent 13 years there and then moved to our current location. Like you said Maurie, it was aligning stars. We opened our bigger store and it just worked out fantastic. We serve the over 40 market, women who are more affluent who want to look great. I had gone to college for fashion merchandising and worked at the Grand Hotel and also as a golf buyer in Jupiter, Florida. I wanted to raise our kids here, so you do it. You take risks.
BUHR: You gotta love it.
HILL: I do! Of course sometimes I’ll see something I love but realize people won’t spend that much for that, so I’ll pass. I’ve learned it’s about the right price and the right timing. Now, [retailers] are discounting on November 1. It used to be Christmas was when markdowns came, then Black Friday, and now November 1. It makes Fall a really important time.
CAMPBELL: Value and price are so interesting. People in my store will say, “that’s beautiful but too expensive.” I’m sorry, but I just believe you can’t spend $20 on a beautiful dress and think it’s made by someone who cares about clothes, feels good about what they do, and is paid fairly for their time.
I just love that you, Wendy, said, “forget it.”
BUHR: Yes. If you sell the higher end stuff it takes a while, and you’ll sell three instead of 12, and you have to train your sales people…I always take the hard way!
CAMPBELL: It weighs on me, but I heard the quote ‘quality isn’t for everyone’ and it’s true! Wendy, you just have your own look. You all do. I love that…there’s no competition if everyone is authentic and does what they believe.
EXPRESS: What about the brands you carry? Do your customers demand that you not carry things other local stores have?
BUHR: When you get to a certain price point there are only so many lines, but no…there’s just two blocks of Front Street! We can’t all sell the same items.
CAMPBELL: It’s a very big deal. There are what, six, seven eight boutiques in one town? It’s tough.
MALPASS: Not only will the reps [from the designers] not allow it, it’s also about business etiquette. You just don’t do it.
EXPRESS: Is it the same with men’s clothing?
ALLEN: Well, fortunately or unfortunately, there’s not a lot of competition in town for men’s clothing. We’ve sort of been the only game in town for many years. We’ve not had issues.
EXPRESS: Is northern Michigan fashionable?
ALLEN: Our region is a bit more casual than many. That hasn’t changed much, even though surprisingly, our suit business is better than it ever has been. Now even metropolitan areas are becoming more casual.
MALPASS: Petoskey is a similarly casual town but limited a bit by function too. We’re all bundled up, and even when a rep says, “oh this flare jean is our best seller,” I’ll remind her we just can’t sell those because weather and boots play a big role. However, I’ll say that the weather leaves women with a desire to dress up when they do have the opportunity.
HILL: Yes. You come in my store in June and no matter what the age, the women you’ll see want to look nice.
CAMPBELL: I’m not comparing it, but look at Portland. Their style isn’t consistent with LA or New York, but they’re fashionable in their own way…individual minded. I think that’s like here.
BUHR: The thing now is we have a lot of people who travel a lot. They work online or travel for work and in the past five years I’m seeing a different customer: more worldly, taking more risks, coming in asking about something instead of having to be introduced to trends. But I do have to say all those t-shirt shops near me… they do three times the business I do! That’s still our main tourist.
MALPASS: Bay Harbor is a little different too. Customers come in and they’ve seen the line elsewhere and have some familiarity with trends… but local people want to be fashionable as well.
EXPRESS: Maurie, have you ever thought about adding vintage at Captain’s Quarters?
ALLEN: Certainly our vendors are putting in vintage looks into their lines, but I learned you can’t be everything to everybody. A store is a function of your personality, and if you’re not comfortable…like you said, Wendy, you know your customer. I go to market and see something among hundreds of items and I know which customer will wear it and in what color. Happens very time.
HILL: Me too. All the time.
ALLEN: But we are going after a younger demographic… young professionals who are dressing for work.
HILL: Wendy, how is your mens’s going?
BUHR: It’s growing. Right now we’re seeing a lot of men’s ties selling.
EXPRESS: Really? Who’s buying ties?
ALLEN: Teens and twenty somethings. Lots of ties and bowties. They’re into it.
BUHR: Great! Maybe we won’t see their underwear hanging out of their jeans soon then!
EXPRESS: What trends are you seeing for this year?
BUHR: Shopping and spending money!
MALPASS: That’s a great answer!
Bright color! “After the winter we had, people are ready to get over it and go bright,” says Captains Quarters Maurie Allen
Both boyfriend and skinny jeans
Bowties, Colorful, striped socks
Coral Indigo Pink