Saturday, December 6, 2008

Reduce, Reuse, Resale!

A couple of days ago, I had the opportunity to stop into the newest addition to the Resale/Consignment Community in Berkeley. Urbanity Style Sharing at the top of Solano Avenue in North Berkeley is a fabulous new place for women to buy new and gently used clothing at very reasonable prices. Not unlike GROVE STREET kids (I've been told), Urbanity has a unique presentation that gives the impression of a more expensive, higher end boutique. The attention to detail, the organization and the aesthetic all lend themselves to one thinking, upon first glance, "Should I go in there? It looks really expensive..."

Well, the sale rack in front seems to answer that question. "Everything $15." While perusing the goods on the outside, from the inside Angela, the owner waved to me. So friendly. I like this place. Once inside, I got to take a really good look. Not unlike GSK, they use wooden hangers to display their garments, and clothing is arranged by color in each size group. (And the prices are extremely reasonable.) It's these subtleties that really make the difference in a presentation. In a review I read somewhere, the author wrote that Urbanity reminded them of an upscale New York Boutique. I would agree, it is urban, but what is missing from this place is the pretentious attitude that usually comes with the boutiques in NYC (after living there for 5 years myself, I have had a few experiences with this). Angela and, the manager, Rebecca are both warm, welcoming, lovely women.

If you read the reviews about this store, and one of my other favorite women's consignment stores, Sola Lucy, those that don't like them (and there aren't many) usually refer to these stores as catering to an older clientele. My guess is that these reviewers, whom usually have a couple hundred reviews under their profile, are young ladies that neither have children or families and have not yet learned the value of time and precious resources. I like to think that both places cater to a mature customer (of any age really) that appreciates women's style, needs, and a good deal.

I have a limited amount of time to shop for myself these days and, with that I know I'm going to go to places like Urbanity and Sola Lucy that appreciate the kind of customer I am.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Don't Judge a Book By It's Cover

"These Clothes Are Used?" "This is a resale store?" or "You're consignment?" and my personal favorite, "I've been driving by for months, thinking you were an expensive Children's Boutique..." are statements that I hear on a regular basis from our first-time customers. "The windows always look so nice, I thought the clothing would be expensive."

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining! I'm very happy to hear from our customers that they are impressed by how our windows are displayed, and that they are pleasantly surprised to find out we are Resale. Someone once referred to us as a "second-hand boutique" and I have to admit I like the ring to that.

Frankly, it never occurred to me that dressing the windows the way that we do would make people think that we were not a resale store. My background is such that I have several (more than I care to admit) years experience in visual merchandising and design, and so presentation is very important to me. I grew up remodeling houses that my parents bought and sold (long before "flipping" became the thing to do), so interiors became significant to me at an early age. In addition, I worked at IKEA as an Interior Designer for 5+ years, and before that did the window displays for a now defunct clothing company in New York City.

In the midst of all that, I graduated from Parsons School of Design with a degree in Fashion Design. I thought at some point I would be the next Donna Karan or Badgley Mischka (well one of them, at least... did you see them on Ugly Betty last week? Fabulous designers, horrible actors...). I worked in the industry for a while, but it's not well suited to women who want families too. But I digress. The point is... with GROVE STREET kids, I was able to combine my interests and my experience. When GSK first opened, I thought it would be an avenue to create my own children's line... and though I haven't ruled it out, I find that that our customers prefer "recycled" clothing. It just makes good sense... for of the economy, for the environment, for the community.

At any rate, I wanted to make the store a pleasant place to shop for customers while still offering good value. I like themes. Maybe because they require organization. And they make a good presentation, of course. If you take a good look at the slideshow to the left, you can get a good idea of what our themes have been, and maybe why people feel as they do about our store. Currently, the theme in our windows is "Fall." Before that, it was "Halloween." Up next? Christmas, of course. I have a hard time putting together displays for one holiday before another has past though. So if you are looking for a lovely Christmas dress for your little one, don't let the windows dissuade you (again). We have plenty inside. And it doesn't cost anything to come in and take a look!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

What's in a name?

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

True, but I just didn't think "Martin Luther King Jr. Way Kids" had the same ring to it.

I am often asked by my customers "Why is it (the store) called GROVE STREET kids?" The short answer is that the street our store is on, now Martin Luther King Jr. Way, used to be named "Grove Street." Some history:

"Just before his assassination, King had proposed an economic bill of rights for the disadvantaged. Then, as now, the country was engaged in an expensive foreign war, spending money that King felt should be spent on social programs.

During the 1980s, activists and community leaders were concerned whether the civil rights gains achieved two decades earlier would last. Renaming streets after King helped to honor his legacy.

Berkeley changed Grove Street to King in 1984, and Oakland followed suit months later. The street starts at Oakland's windswept waterfront and ends in a few up-scale shops in residential North Berkeley."

For me, the naming of our store was a little more personal but, as to not bore you with all the anecdotes of my childhood, I will just briefly tell you that as a kid in Berkeley, I have fond memories of walking down Rose Street after school to the corner market aptly named "Rose and Grove Market." It's still there, by the way, across the street from the bustling FAT APPLE's Restaurant. Down the street is The Grove Antiques and several other "Grove" Businesses still remain on the 6 mile long boulevard. Even the construction site where the new Trader Joe's is being built at MLK and University has "The Old Grove" written on their signage.

Certainly I mean no disrespect to the great man who was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But I am a nostalgic, romantic, sentimental sort of a girl, and it only seemed apropos to name the store after the street that I remembered from when I was a kid.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Trick or Treat

No matter what your age, the last night of October is always one to look forward to celebrating. Halloween means kids running around in costumes, family and friends getting together and a chance talk with neighbors. What other holiday do you have an excuse to eat all the sugar you want and wear whatever you want? But Halloween wasn’t always the same celebration we experience today. In fact, Halloween’s origins date back thousands of years to the ancient Celtic festival called Samhain, pronounced sow-in.

The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is the present day United Kingdom, Ireland and northern France, celebrated Samhain as their new year on November 1. This time marked the end of summer and harvest period and the beginning of the winter, which is a cold and dark time in this region of the world. The Celts associated the season with death and believed that on the night before Samhain the boundary between the living and the dead was distorted.

The Celts celebrated the night of October 31 when ghosts of the dead where believed to return to earth causing trouble and damaging the community’s food supply. The Celts observed the event by burning crops and sacrificing animals to the Celtic Gods in bonfires built by the Druids. They wore costumes, typically of animal skins and heads, to tell each others’ fortunes. And when the celebration was over, the Celts lit their hearth fires from the sacred bonfire to protect them during the coming months.

Romans soon conquered the territory occupied by the Celts and ruled over the land for 400 years. Over the course of time, two Roman festivals were combined with Samhain. One was called Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans commemorated the passing of the dead. The second honored Pomona, the Roman Goddess of fruit and trees. Pomona’s symbol is the apple and was incorporated into the celebration of Samhain. This probably explains the modern day tradition of bobbing for apples, practiced on Halloween.

The Christian influence spread into the Celtic lands by the year 800. About this time, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 as All Saint’s Day as a time to honor saints and martyrs. Current belief is that the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a church-sanctioned holiday. The celebration was also referred to as All-hallows or All-Hallowmas, which was Middle English for All Saints' Day. Eventually, the night before it began to be called All-hallows Eve and then Halloween. In the year 1000, the church would make November 2 All Souls’ Day to honor the dead. The holiday was celebrated similarly to Samhain with bonfires, parades and costumes such as angels, saints and devils. Together, the three celebrations became known as Hallowmas.

As European immigrants came to America, they brought their varied Halloween customs with them. But because of rigid Protestant beliefs in early New England, the celebration of the holiday was limited. The beliefs of various European ethnic groups and the American Indians also began to mesh with the celebration of Halloween and an American version began to materialize. The first American celebrations included public events held to celebrate the harvest. Neighbors would share stories of the deceased, tell fortunes, dance and sing. Colonial Halloween celebrations featured ghost stories and mischief. By the middle of the nineteenth century, autumn festivals were common but Halloween had not reached the entire country.

Immigrants flooded America in the second half of the 1800s, especially Irish immigrants fleeing their country’s potato famine who popularized Halloween nationally. Taking from both Irish and English traditions, Americans began to dress up in halloween costumes, which has European and Celtic roots. These cultures believed they could avoid being recognized by the ghosts that came out on the night of Samhain by wearing masks. They would also place bowls of food outside their homes to satisfy the ghosts and prevent them from entering the home, which could be where trick-or-treating originated. Other sources point to beggars in Ireland who made their rounds to homes of the rich to ask for money and food. They would threaten them with “evil spirits” if they did not give.

By the 1920s and 30s, Halloween had become completely community-centered with parades and parties for the whole town. Vandalism also began to disrupt Halloween celebrations. That trend slowed in the 1950s and the holiday began to focus on the young due to the baby boom of the time. Trick-or-treating was revived as a way for the community to celebrate and a new American tradition was born. Today, Americans spend an estimated $6.9 billion annually on Halloween, making it the country's second largest commercial holiday. GROVE STREET kids has a wonderful selection of new and gently used costumes for just the occasion!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mom

Today is my mother's birthday. Some years are harder than others since she's been gone. We would celebrate our birthdays together since they are only 3 days apart. This year, today has been difficult. But the other day, on my birthday, one of my frequent customers, Judy, came into the store. She's so frequent that we have developed a friendship and sometimes she acts as my therapist. We talked about how my mother was my age when I was born (and today, she would be twice as old as I am, so see if you can figure out the equation!) and said "I'm sure your mom would be proud of you," with regards to my starting this business. It made that day a little bit easier.

I am proud of our store. In case you hadn't heard, we were recently voted "Best Children's Store" on A pretty nice birthday present. For both of us.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Store is Born

Inspired by my fellow "mom-preneur," Mae Chan Frey of Ruby's Garden, I have decided to give this Blogger thing a shot. I had heard of blogging, even read a few blogs, but never really contributed to one. Frankly, I don't know if it will be of any interest to anyone, but what have I got to lose? Only time, I guess.

Grove Street Kids opened 15 months ago, on my step-daughter, Bailey's birthday, July 18th, 2007. I really owe her a lot of credit for getting the idea to open the store in the first place. The fact is, she is a teenager, and I was working from home at the time, and getting way too caught up in her life and the time she was spending on MySpace. One day back in May, I found myself spending way too much time scouring through her "friend's comments" looking for any hidden meaning or insight into what was going on with her and, ultimately, decided that I really needed to "get a life" of my own!

Not long after that, Charlie, my husband, Bailey and Olivia, our youngest, and I were walking up MLK from Virginia Street (we live only four short blocks away from GSK - what a commute!) on our way to breakfast at Fat Apples. We had passed a vacant store front on that block on this day, and many times over the previous year, and I got to wondering. Fantasizing, really. "Wouldn't it be great to have my own store?" Charlie and I had spoken many times over the years about having our own business. We had talked about opening a shop that carried only hand-made items. But I had secretly wanted my own resale shop for years. I had even started collecting the clothes when Olivia was an infant, but the overhead of a store front scared me. So I eventually sold all those on-line which I thought might actually be the way to go but, alas, I needed human interaction. Conversation. A store!

So, I thought, "That place has been empty for a long time. Maybe the rent's outrageous, and I can bargain the Landlord down. "What does it hurt to call? So, I called. The rent wasn't outrageous. It wasn't cheap, but it wasn't outrageous. John, the Landlord, was actually very reasonable about it. But picky. He didn't want just anyone in there. Hence, the long vacancy. Anyway, after seeing the space, talking it out with the DH, negotiating the terms, I found myself signing a lease on May 16th (my parents' anniversary). It happened that fast.

A lot of people ask me, when they come into our store, "How long did it take to put it together?" "Was it hard to do?" and questions of the like. If I had had too much time to think about it, it might not have happened, truth be told. I had no business plan. No data. No statistics. Just a fantasy, a desire to get back out there, and the hope and belief that I could make it all work. And the fantastic support of my friends and family. Especially that.

Well, over a year and a half later, I'm still figuring it out and, like my friend, Mae, learning to run a store by running a store (sorry, to steal your line Mae, but it's a great one!), whilst balancing home and family and trying to get a little sleep somewhere in between!