Three who’ve survived
Three long-time local clothiers share the secrets of their success
Despite the tidal wave of economic uncertainty that has washed over the nation the past year or so—and the challenges facing any stand-alone, locally owned clothing store—some Chico clothiers have found ways to keep their heads above water for decades.
The vibrant atmosphere of Chico’s downtown, loyal customers and traffic from Chico State have allowed some businesses to thrive despite the challenging economy, said Joleen Francis, president and CEO of the Chico Chamber of Commerce.
“I think the business community in Chico is very resilient, and that’s evident by those businesses that have been around for years and years,” she said.
However, the “secret” to many downtown businesses’ success does not seem very secret at all: provide personalized customer service and quality clothing at good prices.
One business that has become a downtown landmark is Fifth Street Clothing Co. at 328 Broadway St. It’s become widely known downtown and throughout the North State thanks to its energetic, upbeat commercials, in which owner Carol Munson has coined the jingle phrase, “On Broadway!”
The store, which has survived in three downtown locations over the course of 31 years, carries contemporary clothing for women ranging from their 20s to beyond, Munson said.
Munson and her staff hand-pick every item they sell, and stock the store’s racks with high-quality, fashionable clothing. The store carries designers including Eileen Fisher and Nic + Zoe. However, Munson is hesitant to use the word “designer” when she describes her store, she said.
“They’re better-made goods,” she said. “Not designer, because designer usually means over-the-hill when it comes to price.”
Munson opened in 1978 at Fifth and Salem streets—hence the store’s name. She insists the store’s long life can be attributed to factors she cannot control, and has allowed her faith to guide her throughout her business’s triumphs and hardships.
“When God has a plan for you, you succeed,” Munson said.
But perhaps Fifth Street’s success can be attributed to Munson’s personable attitude and passion for her loyal clientele.
When customers enter her store, whether they amble in off the street or visit regularly, they are greeted with lively comments and suggestions from Munson and her staff, who often guide them to certain brands that may suit their individual styles or taste.
When it comes to competing with larger clothing stores, such as chain boutiques and stores in the mall, Munson said her shop survives because she provides more options and stocks her racks with full outfits.
“I know how to dress people,” Munson said confidently.
Munson is also willing to do “three times the work” when it comes to helping customers, even if that customer walks out of the store without making a purchase.
“It’s not about getting the sale,” she said. “It’s about making them feel comfortable in what they’re wearing.”
Another store that has become a downtown landmark is Betty’s on Broadway, located at 245 Broadway St. The boutique, which hugs the corner of Broadway and Third streets, caters to a customer base of women, many of them professionals, who like to buy clothing, jewelry and accessories in an organized and comfortable setting.
“She’s a contemporary girl who’s ageless,” said owner Summer Vallock. “She pretty much dresses in what looks good on her.”
Betty’s carries widely known designers including Betsey Johnson, Trina Turk and other California-based designers that are on the lower-end of the designer price scale, Vallock said.
About every other month, Vallock attends markets in different locations across the United States to hand-pick clothing that falls into target trends, as well as what she calls “fashion flash-points”—popular looks that do not qualify as complete trends, but are likely to become popular throughout the next few months, such as this season’s fringe or bondage skirts, she said.
“We see it very early on and decide whether it is right or wrong,” Vallock said. “Everything is cherry-picked, one by one.”
However, business has not always been so seamless. Surviving in Chico for 25 years has sometimes been a “rollercoaster,” which she has survived by providing good customer service and products to match, she said.
“You just have to lay down a pretty good foundation,” Vallock said. “You can’t just think you’re going to wing it.”
Also, Vallock’s loyal customer-base has allowed the business to survive in Chico’s downtown market, where most stores are aimed toward the college and junior-aged market, she said.
One store that has hit that college and junior-aged market, while still providing options for women of all ages, is Weekend Warehouse, located at 225 Main St. The store celebrated its 25th anniversary over Labor Day weekend, to remember when it opened at its first location near Big Al’s Drive-In on East Ninth Avenue.
Weekend Warehouse caters to women who range in age from junior high to grandmothers, said manager Dan Torres. Since the store’s May 1984 opening, it has changed locations four times for different reasons, but has maintained its popularity as one of the few stores in the North State that sell “mix-and-match” bathing suits and affordable formal wear, such as women’s gowns, he said.
“I have customers who have been shopping here for 25 years, who are now in their 30s, 40s and 50s,” Torres said.
Torres has kept his business afloat with good customer service, stocking his racks with casual clothing and—most important—keeping everything at a reasonable, affordable price.
“That’s always been our niche—fashion at a good price,” he said.
Torres has been in his Main Street location for four years, and is hoping to soon see an improvement in the economy, which he says has affected his business during the past year. It is commonly said that it takes a business three years to “get back to where it was” financially after a move, and the bad economy has made that difficult for the Warehouse, he said.
However, Torres, like Munson and Vallock, hopes that personalized customer service and a positive attitude will be the key to keeping well-known stores such as theirs healthy and thriving downtown.
“It’s all good,” Munson said.