Op-Ed: Why Have So Many Independent Boutiques Recently Closed Their Doors in Washington, D.C.?
by ATFDC Contributor Susan Stipanovich
The sudden closing of several independent fashion and accessories boutiques in the District has alarmed the staff and writers at All Things Fashion DC for a few months. In July contributor Kelsi Zimmerman wrote a piece entitled ”The Slow Death of Local Independent Boutiques in DC” in which she explored the merits of shopping at these locally owned businesses as well as ways for consumers to contribute to their success. In recent weeks, several more boutiques including Black-Eyed Susie, Men’s Fashion Center on H Street, and vintage stores Annie Creamcheese and It’s Vintage Darling, have closed their doors in the District. The Washington Post recently published an obituary of sorts for Men’s Fashion Center on H Street, which will be closing its doors in October. The haberdashery that has been clothing well-dressed gentlemen in D.C. since the 1960s was simply not doing enough business, affected by factors such as construction for streetcar tracks on H Street. Jerry Goldkind, who took over the store after his father died, told the Post, “I have days where I don’t take in $100. If someone came in to rob me, I’d have to write him a check.” More mysteriously, Georgetown’s M Street lost a staple retailer recently when Annie Creamcheese vintage store simply packed up all of their merchandise and left a sign in the empty shop window that read “We are moving to L.A. Thank you, Washington, for 7 amazing years.” Loyal shoppers were shocked as word spread that the store had closed its doors. Several publications, including ATFDC, have attempted to reach the management for comment with no reply. These recent closures leave one to ponder: why have so many independent boutiques closed their doors in Washington, D.C.? One factor could be the rising costs of renting retail space in the District. The Wall Street Journal published an article which explained that renting retail space in Washington was more expensive than in almost every other city in the country, including New York City. There is very high demand for retail space in the District, which enables landlords to raise rent prices by 3-4% each year (a cost that would easily be covered by chain retailers). Another factor in the struggle of local small boutiques is competition from department stores, chain retailers, and online markets such as Bluefly.com, Amazon.com and Zappos. With applications such as Google Shopping, consumers are easily able to compare prices among several major retailers and choose the cheapest options. Poor economic conditions create an environment where people are more likely to choose convenient and inexpensive options over the quality selections offered by independent boutiques. One thing that independent boutique owners might consider to combat flagging sales is a broadening their online presence. In a recent article the New York Times argues that boutiques would have greater success by reaching a wider consumer base through an online presence. The Times points out: [Independent boutique] Totokaelo does an average of 70 percent of its sales online, according to its staff. It’s one of a number of independent boutiques across the country whose Web presences are thriving, giving them breadth and influence beyond their neighborhoods… “We launched the Web site in 2008 and the business doubled overnight,” said Jill Wenger, Totokaelo’s owner. The option of choosing a web presence over or in addition to the traditional brick and mortar storefronts is an appealing one to independent boutique owners. The costs of running a web-based business are much lower than those for a physical storefront and provide an excellent forum for reaching out to a much more broad consumer base. While certainly a different shopping experience for Fashiontonians, having the District’s small boutique selections available online would certainly add to the availability of the area’s hand-selected merchandise. Washington has a proud tradition of independent boutiques that cater to Fashiontonians needs through handpicked selection and quality service. These businesses contribute greatly to the shopping culture of the District which Fashiontonians enjoy. When possible, take the opportunity to explore the selections of our local, independently owned boutiques and contribute to the success of those community members who keep locals looking chic.
Susan Stipanovich is a stylist and writer who lives and works in Washington D.C. She researches counter terrorism methods and international security sector reform in Africa and the Middle East by day as a Department of Defense associate and spends her free time curating a fashionable lifestyle through her blog Hepburn Loves Givenchy.