Op-Ed: The Slow Death of Local Independent Retailer Boutiques in DC
by ATFDC Contributor Kelsi Zimmerman
We can all recall those moments where we’ve been browsing the racks of a higher end boutique and thought “oh, I could totally find that at (enter name of mass retailer here) for twenty bucks.” Price, is the biggest advantage that mass retailers have over individually owned boutiques. You can find a dress for an event for $20 and call it a steal, but that is just the thing. Due to the quality that you find at most mass retailers, you will really only be able to wear the dress once before the washing machine tears it to shreds. Yes, in today’s economy, cheap is important, but with that one advantage that mass retailers have over individually owned boutiques, comes a lot of disadvantages. In this piece, I examine some of these disadvantages and lament over the seeming disappearance of indie boutiques in DC.
When walking into any local DC boutique such as Nana‘s (located at 3068 Mt Pleasant St NW Between N Hobart St and N Irwing St) in comparison to H&M (which now has two locations in DC: 1025 F St NW and 3222 M St NW) you are bound to get a more personal shopping experience as a whole. At boutiques like Nana, Proper Topper (1350 Connecticut Ave NW), Upstairs on 7th (555 12th St NW) and more, merchandise is handpicked by Washingtonians who themselves have firsthand knowledge of the demographics of the area and are able to select their seasonal selections based on the likes and styles of the locals. When walking into an individually owned boutique you are likely to find one size run for each garment, so yes you guessed it- the likeliness that you will run into a girl that has the same outfit as you on, is slim to none. In comparison to that awful night that we can all recall where we ended up seeing two other girls at the restaurant you were at wearing the same H&M blouse that you also had on.
Aside from boutiques having unique finds in comparison to mass retailers, it is common knowledge that when you walk into a boutique, you will be greeted in a smaller, less-overwhelming environment by a friendly sales associate whose job is to do nothing but help to make your shopping experience easier and more comfortable. Whether it is by helping to find a different size for you when you are in the dressing room (because really- we all know how much of a pain it is to buckle and unbuckle your sandals between every try on) or simply getting a second opinion. Some local boutiques will even offer to special order a specific size that you need from the brand’s company of a garment that you are looking at. Boutiques like Urban Chic of Georgetown (1626 Wisconsin Ave NW), even have an assortment of pumps available in the dressing rooms so you can get the full effect when trying on an outfit.
With all of the perks of shopping in a small individually owned boutique, you would think Fashiontonians wouldn’t have to think twice about shopping in a local boutique rather than a cluttered, chaotic mass retailer. BUT in today’s economy, mass-market retailers are causing a slow death to locally owned boutiques with stores popping up all over the place in DC; a Zara at 1238 Wisconsin Ave, Two H&M locations: 1025 F Street NW and 3222 M St NW and Forever 21 at 1025 F St NW.
How can we do our part to ensure our beloved retail neighbors don’t end up closing down like the late Circle Boutique formerly found at Logan Circle, and Alex Boutique formerly located at Eye St and 20th St NW? We must make an effort to save our local designers and boutiques!
1) Last year American Express was a founding partner in developing launchkits to “Small Business Saturday”, a day consumers support their local businesses by doing their holiday shopping at individually owned stores the Saturday between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Small Business Saturday, which was advertised nationally, needs to be implemented in our day to day shopping habits in order to support our local businesses, rather than just during the Holiday Season.
2) At Nana, local designers have the possible opportunity to sell their garments in their store. If a local business is supporting up and coming local designers, that calls for a lot of local support in return in my book. Duo (located at 1624 Wisconsin Ave NW, between Q St and N 33rd St), is a boutique that just opened in February of this year, by sisters Kyle and Elizabeth. They have a market niche of selling handmade jewelry by Kyle. As Fashiontonians we need to support local DC businesswomen like Kyle and Elizabeth who are being raved about and are proving to be very successful after opening their doors at a time when the odds of the economy are against them.
3) Have a “support your hometown business” mentality and believe in quality not quantity. I can not tell you how many times my mother has asked me where all of my money goes, and season after season I have not had much to show. I chose to impulse-shop cheap little purchases that won’t last until next season instead of saving to purchase staple pieces that I will be able to re-wear season after season.
Please do not let DC slowly and systematically become a series of outdoor malls. Let’s all band together and #ShopLocal, enjoy the amazing experiences you get at a small boutique, and walk away with a high quality purchase. Because, after all- that is a local boutique’s idea of how to maintain brand loyalty- so lets let the little guys show us what they’ve got!
A 21 year old Maryland Native and Senior Fashion Merchandising major at Stevenson University fashion has consumed Kelsi’s life from a young age and continues to as she travels to experience the fashion scenes from various cities across the world. Kelsi is thrilled to be back in the DMV and help bring to light the rising fashion scene right here in DC.