The profit sharers

If you go to a mall around here, any mall, you can be sure you’ll find a Gap, a J. Crew and a Nine West inside. The unique, independent retailers, on the other hand, seem to have become an endangered species. Such entrepreneurs have been competing with each other, and with those ubiquitous chains, to get by while mall-goers increasingly find themselves missing out on knowledgeable, experienced merchants who can actually have a conversation with them about what they’re buying. Has local shopping become an absolute bust?

Well, in case you haven’t noticed, Midtown has blossomed with boutiques in recent years. Take a walk along the streets of the grid, and you’ll find an abundance of independent retailers specializing in shoes; contemporary, vintage and used clothing for men and women; denim; and even home furnishings. In recognition of their mutual interests, many of the storeowners have joined forces to create the Midtown Boutique District. Their primary goal is simple: to create a platform for communication and support between the boutiques. In other words, they’re exploring the novel concept of the storeowner who actually helps you find what you’re looking for, even if it means giving your business to another shop.

“Why compete with each other when we can help people find what they want if we work together?” said Todd Bartell, the co-owner of 23 Lounge on 23rd and J streets. “If we talk to each other about what we carry and tell our customers about the other cool stuff they can find in Midtown, they stay happy.”

Shopping at independent boutiques also allows consumers an added bonus they can’t get at the Gap: individuality. “People in this area are fashion-conscious and want individuality,” said Noah Schwartz, the owner of Shoefly on 24th and K. “If they knew there were big-city-type boutiques right here in Sacramento, they would come here to shop and spend their hard-earned money in their own city instead of traveling to San Francisco or Los Angeles.” He compares the area to San Francisco’s Union Street or Melrose in Los Angeles.

As small-business owners, most of these merchants have tight budgets and can’t afford much advertising. The Midtown Boutique District advertises them collectively, bringing attention to many businesses at once. Schwartz estimates up to 22 boutiques are involved in the project so far, including Cuffs Urban Apparel, Atmosphere Home, DV8, Barby K, Dara Denim, Krazy Mary’s (recently relocated nearer to its sister boutique, Sugar Shack) and Sole—all of which recently offered a collective 10-percent discount to holiday shoppers, along with free wrapping.

Expect more perks like these as the group continues its community outreach. Not only will they let you in on who else in town has incredible steals; they also plan to host Second Saturday events, sidewalk sales and other fun ways to max out your purchasing power.