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Minn. Retail Trend Attracts Women Shoppers

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

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DULUTH, Minn. (AP) — A retail trend is catching on in the Twin Ports that’s not only getting women out to certain shops, but eager to buy.

Once a month, that is.

When Snowman Hill, a little cottage shop in Rice Lake Township, opens its doors for its once-a-month sales, customers are lined up to get first pick at the shop’s unique vintage, shabby chic and repurposed wares, from garden art fashioned out of old machinery to freshly painted, old-fashioned dressers.

By the last day of the three-day sale, most of the merchandise has been sold.

“They start coming a half-hour before opening,” said Dana Carlson, who operates the business with her daughter, Krista Nosan. “We do most of our business in that first two, three hours. They know everything we have is pretty much one of a kind. They want to be there to get the best pickings. We won’t let early shoppers in. When we open the door, it’s just a henhouse.”

With a similar once-a-month approach, Lillians women’s clothing store opened in August in downtown Duluth, offering up trendy, affordable clothes and accessories. It’s the first local franchise for the chain, which started six years ago with a store in Buffalo, Minn. Now there are about 35 Lillians stores in nine states, all open a few consecutive days a month.

“It’s going really well,” said Katie DeGrio Channing, co-owner of the Duluth store. “We’ve grown a great customer base. We have our regulars there at 10 a.m. We have a lot of new people every month.”

The feedback has been so positive that people keep thanking them for opening such a shop, she says.

“We only have six of each style, so when they’re gone, they’re gone,” she said. “People love it because they know they’re getting something unique.”

And now two more stores are opening in the Twin Ports using the “occasional sales” concept that’s hot in places like Buffalo, Anoka and Carver, Minn.

House of J home furnishings gears up for its first three-day run in a former bank building in South Superior. And on June 3, the Checkered Corner will open in what used to be Carlson Florist and Greenhouses in Hermantown, offering vintage and reclaimed country-style items for home and garden.

The first floor of the former bank at Tower Avenue and North 61st Street in South Superior is being readied for the grand opening of House of J. The boutique will offer used and refurbished furniture and home accessories.

“Everything’s a find,” said owner Jennifer Hauck of Superior. “They’re found treasures.”

The store, which will also feature wares of local artists, was a dream of Hauck’s. She had been fixing up and upholstering old furniture for years and helping others decorate their homes as a hobby.

“I gravitate towards things that need some TLC,” she said. “I would see an object, and I could see its beauty painted or refinished.”

She started seriously thinking about opening a store last winter, when she learned her work hours at a local nonprofit would be cut. When the idea of a store that’s open just a few days a month came to her, Hauck — the mother of two teenagers and a 20-year-old — excitedly thought. “I can do this.”

She would like to be open six months out of the year, from April through September, but will re-evaluate that plan in September.

Similar to Snowman Hill, Anita Murray’s merchandise at the Checkered Corner will be reclaimed, vintage items for country-style home and garden decor. The shop will be open three days a month through December in the former Carlson retail shop and one of the greenhouses.

With both these businesses offering recycled items — from a headboard crafted into a bench to old lanterns turned into bird feeders– what’s the appeal?

“It’s different. It offers variety. It has a link with the past,” said Murray, who has been a collector for years. “A lot of people are gravitating towards stuff your grandmother had. People are more eclectic with their decorating. It’s typically unique, one-of-a-kind pieces.”

Like the operators of Snowman Hill, Murray held sales out of her home before taking on an actual storefront.

“I researched the whole occasional market concept to see if it would work for me,” she said. “I love the idea of destination shopping. You get a lot of repeat customers because the inventory of your show space changes every month.”

That changing showroom, coupled with a sense of urgency that a special item could be snatched up at any minute, is fueling the trend.

A regular customer at Snowman Hill, JoEtteSloan was there for a recent sale opener buying several items.

But the vintage washboard she didn’t buy stayed on her mind. So she went back the next to get it, only to be disappointed.

“It’s gone,” she said. “It’s crazy. Everything I thought about getting is gone.”

For the shopkeepers, the three weeks their shops are closed is a time to restock and prepare for the next sale. For the owners of Snowman Hill and Checkered Corner and, soon, House of J, it’s a time to find more treasures and refurbish them for sale.

They hit garage sales, auctions, flea markets and estate sales and check out discarded items along country roads. Hauck even admits to doing some Dumpster diving.

All say their businesses feed their creative side and supplement their family incomes.

“It’s more of a hobby,” Carlson said.

And it’s do-able for these women.

“I think its attainable for working women like me with families,” Hauck said. “We can still live our dream and use our gifts. We can still do it and supplement our income while balancing our lives.”

By CANDACE RENALLS
Duluth News Tribune

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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