HOLLAND, MICH.’S, BEVY OF BOUTIQUES LURE “PERMANENT” SUMMER RESIDENTS WITH STYLES THAT TAKE THEIR CUES FROM THE CITY.
Byline: Rebecca Kleinman
Located on Michigan’s west coast, idyllic Holland has its share of tourist attractions in gorgeous, white beaches, tulip beds and red sunsets that dissolve into Lake Michigan. But unlike other out-of-the-way places, it doesn’t depend on tourism to drive retail.
“Our ‘tourists’ really aren’t the kind in Saugatuck or the towns to the north. They’re summer residents who have cottages or boats,” said Gary Baas, co-owner of Country House and Baas’ specialty stores. Aside from second-home owners, Holland’s steady retail climate is supported by progressive, affluent residents who indulge in two-hour massages at Personal Palette, shop for Italian delicacies at Pereddies and sip designer lattes at jp’s. There’s even room for an upscale plus-size boutique, Yeta’s, whose fashion-forward mix of Dana Buchman, Tamotsu and Sigrid Olsen would stand out in any major city.
For such a small pond (approximately 90,000 people), the greater Holland area also claims some big names in business, such as Heinz and Haworth, the furniture maker.
“I guess it’s that Dutch work ethic,” explained Patricia Seiter, director of its Downtown Development Authority (DDA). Seiter attributes much of the DDA’s success to a streetscape project in the late Eighties, when a local visionary and the city government joined forces to redesign Eighth Street with landscaping, easy parking and heated pavers that melt the snow off sidewalks. Three years ago, the DDA established Principle Shopping District, a marketing group that promotes retail through brochures, direct mail campaigns and events like the Santa Claus parade.
“I see more new faces during the summer, but as far as I can tell, we experience the same retail cycles and economic dips as Chicago,” said Seiter. Here are some stores that are anything but touristy:
After 30-odd years in retail, husband and wife Gary and Paula Baas downsized by closing their Grand Haven location and consolidating their men’s and women’s stores, Baas’ and Country House. Despite any changes, the specialty store remains true to its original concept of attitude over age.
“I really couldn’t pinpoint an exact customer. We get everyone from college girls to grandmas,” said Gary whose family bought the business in the Forties, though it dates back to 1884.
More important than any one direction, he and Paula look for newness when buying in Chicago, New York and on the West Coast. Their number one and two lines are Garfield & Marks and Tommy Bahama. The store’s neutral decor also provides a backdrop for Democracy, Barbara Lesser and David Dart. For jeans, the Baases write Pulp and Cambio. They bring in cashmere around Christmas, but carry Margaret O’Leary sweaters the entire year. Outfits are finished off with Teresa Goodall and Marjorie Baer accessories.
Country House’s topnotch services range from Lafayette 148 trunk shows to preferred shopper cards to free alterations. “We also send out direct mail by resource to link each vendor to its customer,” said Baas.
Reporting a sales increase of 11 percent in 2000, he projects only 3 to 4 percent this year due to the economy.
Faye’s at Mira
Retailer Faye Hirt no longer has to run back and forth after the recent consolidation of her two stores: Faye’s, which carried career wear and traditional styles, and Mira, which specialized in social occasion and contemporary labels. For Faye’s at Mira, she chose the latter’s 2700-square-foot space with a white tin ceiling and exposed brick walls painted peach and yellow .
“I consolidated because my classic and contemporary lines were starting to look the same. Plus I thought it was time to simplify my life,” said Hirt, who opened her first boutique 15 years ago, followed by a second two years later.
The hybrid represents the best of both stores. A big resource for mother-of-the-bride, cruisewear and black-tie, she kept Daymor Couture, Rimini and Caroline Rose, one of her favorites for its special fabrics, novelty jackets and beadwork. Hirt doesn’t sell cashmere because “her customer won’t spend money on better quality cashmere, the only kind I would carry,” but she stuck with Michael Simon, Marisa Christina and Bellepointe. Renfrew is her top seller, while other important manufacturers are Sigrid Olsen, Canvasbacks, Geiger for outerwear and Swan Works for T-shirts. Hirt also shops the regional markets for accessories like Marjorie Baer jewelry, Brighton belts and Perlina leather bags. “I go to Chicago to stay loyal to my reps, but I’m also happy with the Dallas and Atlanta markets,” she said.
Though she experienced a softer spring than usual, Hirt reported sales of $500,000 for each store in 2000. Not bad for a math major who “fell into retail” after working on a fashion show.
JB and ME
Maribeth Van Zalen and Jamie Grasman took their weekly, mother-and-daughter shopping excursions to the next level when they opened jb and me in 1997. Though the unlikely team entered the apparel business “cold and fresh without having gone to a market before,” their formula for comfortable, yet edgy clothes was so successful that they opened a Chicago location in 2000.
Jb and me encompasses both the worlds of home and fashion. “It came about since people loved the smell and set-up of the store. They wanted to take it home with them,” said Maribeth.
Nearly everything is for sale, including the music and raspberry tea. “We wanted anybody to be able to find something. If their personality didn’t fit the clothes, then they could buy a candle or some of our homemade tea,” she said.
Cozy chairs, denim slipcovers, antiques and a display bed piled high with pretty pillows and old-fashioned quilts are interspersed with Quick Reflex suits, For Joseph cropped, linen overalls, Cousin Johnny sweaters and Zoe party dresses.
Since so many items work back to jeans, their denim category has evolved greatly. “If you find a woman a pair of jeans that fits, you will have a customer for life,” said Jamie, who stocks Edwin, Lucky Brand Dungarees and Ikeda.
Other fun items are Grassroots and Blue Print T-shirts, Echo scarves and Margaret Ross jewelry. Services like preferred customer cards, quarterly newsletters, trunk shows and onsite alterations also led to sales of $500,000 in 2000.
Older girls just want to have fun, too, so Holland’s mature crowd heads to Lokker Rutgers for good deals.
Founded in 1892 as a moderate resource, the store also captures tourists and young people looking for necessities like Hanes hosiery or a Susan Bristol sweater for a sunset cruise.
“We’re trying to attract people from 20 to 80, but a lot are senior citizens, since there’s a sizable retirement complex nearby,” said partner Lynn Kobes.
Having a more mature customer base has sheltered her business from the shaky economy. “When you’re retired, there’s less economic downturn. They come in the same regardless,” explained her brother and partner Jerome Kobes. They tallied sales of $900,000 in 2000.
Attributing the possibility of a slight sales decrease this year to bad weather plus an inability to find the right manufacturers, the Kobes have really taken a look at their inventory this summer. They plan to bring in more novelty outerwear and traditional suiting this fall, in addition to their tried-and-true labels like Nancy Bolen City Girl, Habitat and Tribal.
Accessorizing also is important to a generation who grew up with matching handbags, hats and gloves. “We get so many comments about our selection. They especially like that we put things out to touch and try on,” said Lynn.
Studio K’s minimal, loft setting and contemporary direction seem better suited for Chicago’s Oak Street or Armitage Avenue, yet owner Kim Petroelje insists the demand is there. “My customers are so happy they don’t have to drive anymore,” she said of her primarily local clientele, which also includes second-home owners from Chicago and Grand Rapids and those who drive in from the surrounding areas.
Meeting their needs with a combination of small-town service and big-city style, Petroelje arranges closet consultations, free hemming or videos for kids to watch while moms browse peacefully among racks laden with the hottest names.
Staples are BCBG, Leon Max, Body Action Design, Shu + Shu and Crazy Larry, which has been “excellent for reorders.” To satisfy the misses’ customer who followed her from her post as a manager at Country House in 2000, she also buys Rialto and Allen Allen.
Studio K also provides a wide assortment of denim such as Vitamina, its most popular brand, and Big Star, and T-shirts like Glima, Project E, Lu Lu Lame and Charlotte Tarantola.
Shopping Chicago, Dallas and New York, Petroelje takes the “little of a lot” approach to buying. “The first thing my customers ask when they come in is, ‘What’s new?”‘ she said. With a sales projection of more than $300,000 in 2001, higher-priced lines don’t seem to be an issue either. “I was hesitant to carry shorts that retailed for $98 or Prada accessories, but they’re going great.”