Meet Your Merchant: Prices make shopping fun at unique boutique
Senior Staff Writer
Jane Smith was busily steaming wrinkles out of a shear dress that looked like it belonged on a 1920’s flapper.
Other garments at her store, Sisters Consignment Boutique, ranged from $4,000 minks to $10 costume jewelry earrings. Smith has survived 22 years with a tasteful yet flamboyant eye for selling “new or almost new” merchandise.
“We’ve learned to say eclectic,” Smith said.
But the flapper dress is something really different – part of a new trend Smith is seeing.
“We really need costumes, so I took this in,” Smith said. “There’s a new fad in costume cocktail parties.
“People will come in and say, ‘I’ve got to be a pirate tonight.'”
Smith accepts about 5 percent of the mostly women’s clothing and accessories that people hope to sell through her downtown Grass Valley store.
“If it’s unique and interesting and in excellent condition, we’ll take it,” she said.
And if it moves within her usual two-month contract, the consignors receive 40 percent of the selling price. “The rest keeps the doors open” at 152 S. Auburn St.
Normally, Smith’s merchandise is rack-ready, but she was steaming the flapper dress because of the growing demand – to the point where she has opened a back room for costumes only. There, you can find a ballerina tutu or a Merlin the Wizard robe.
School events such as medieval feasts and pioneer days call for period dress as well.
“It used to be costumes were just for Halloween and things like Cornish Christmas and Mardi Gras,” Smith said.
Just outside the costume room, you can pick up a new, silk Asian jacket or a Mexican sombrero. Shoes and accessories are packed into every inch of the tight yet uncluttered store.
On the long rack against the wall, prom gowns and wedding dresses stand out. They also are becoming popular – perhaps another sign of the economy. Smith encourages local women to recoup some of the cost of a gown they have only worn once.
You also can find the occasional never-worn gown “from the wedding that didn’t happen at the last moment,” Smith said. “Stores won’t take them back.”
Smith also has cases of fine jewelry – and lots and lots of costume jewelry, fitting any style, mood or ambition.
“We like to think we can dress you to go vegetable gardening or to a formal night on the town,” Smith said.
Smith ran her first consignment business in Marin County for 10 years; she opened Sisters in Nevada City in 1998 after moving here. Within a few years, she recruited her former Marin colleague, Gloria Camgros, to join her.
While business was good in Nevada City, Smith saw downtown Grass Valley had more second-hand, consignment and antique shops. She moved six years ago to capture the business of those who want to park and stroll around to those various shops.
Grass Valley also has brought a new animal through her door: Men.
“In the ten years in Marin, one man came in,” Smith said. “In this community, 50 percent of the time, the women are accompanied by a man. That’s why I have husband chairs” in the middle of the store.
“Their women come out and model things for them. It’s so sweet,” Smith said.
In the future, Smith plans to bring in more men’s furnishings. She has noticed men who are seeking stylish clothing and want the same bargains the women are getting.
Like any other business in the recession, Smith has had to adapt to stay alive by looking for trends and items you just can’t find anywhere else.
She also has learned to shift her business philosophy a bit.
“I’ve lowered my expectations and prices,” Smith said. “We want to keep shopping fun.”
To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail email@example.com or call (530) 477-4237.
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