CADILLAC — Retail shops in downtown Cadillac are flourishing. Gone are the dark faces of empty storefronts. Instead, colorful window displays, fabulous interior decor and merchandise, and personal service are attracting destination clientele.
Behind the retail revival is a powerful force of women entrepreneurs working their dreams ... using their passions instead of spread sheets to guide them.
Observing this renaissance is Joy VanDrie, who directs both the Downtown Cadillac Association and the Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau. She credits women business owners for the retail revival.
In fact, up and down both sides of main street, VanDrie estimates that women own or are partners in almost 90 percent of the businesses.
Interviews with a sampling of retail owners revealed their struggles and rewards. Most juggle homelife and children while trying to stay profitable during the slow winter months.
But they show up every day. They clear the sidewalks after snow storms. They turn on the lights and wait for the busy season, when the jobs they love kick into high gear.
“In reality, anyone that gets into downtown business won’t get rich,‘ said Kaycie Ramsey, owner of Your Sister’s Closet consignment shop. “I knew that when I took this over. But I wanted to have a bigger impact on the community.‘
By doing what they love and taking risks, four women have given downtown Cadillac three destination clothing boutiques, Blossom, Serendipity, and Mäkse.
Blossom’s owner Jamie Prince has been in business for 11 years. She got her start helping her parents when they owned The Apple Tree, a gift shop.
“I was very nervous about going into business,‘ she said. “I was a stay-at-home mom helping my parents. But my passions are interior design and fashion.‘
Blossom is filled with unique women’s clothing, jewelry and accessories. In addition, Amy Bizzigotti remodeled the back of the store for her business, Intermission, a skin care studio.
Prince credits the success of her store with “listening to her gut‘ and treating every customer with respect. In addition, five years of banking experience and financial advice from her dad have been invaluable.
“Getting to know your client base and what they want has been key,‘ she said. “The challenge is, taking into consideration the busy times and slow times. You can’t control nature and the weather.‘
Serendipity, Things We Love
When Serendipity opened five years ago, owner Michele Bosscher said she was “blown out of the water‘ by its success, adding that “it’s humbling that there are people coming here that I don’t even know, of their own free will. I love every aspect of it.‘
Bosscher has a degree in piano performance and worked as an accompanist and hairdresser while raising her children. She too has a passion for interior design and clothing ... and she loads her store with clothing, accessories, gifts and home decor.
She also studied how to buy inventory, crucial to a store’s success.
“I just stuck with my gut,‘ she said. “I love to accommodate people and make them feel good about who they are.‘
She credits being able to “keep the doors open‘ to hiring the right people, having the right price points and stocking unique items.
Bonnie Knopf and business partner Kristen Tacoma own Mäkse, another unique clothing store attracting attention with their take on eccentric, retro clothing. They have been open about 18 months.
“This has been a dream going back my whole life,‘ said Knopf. “This was a chance of a lifetime ... it’s everything and more. There’s nothing about this I don’t love.‘
“It was scary yes,‘ she added. “We have lots of competition ... we rely on summer tourism and it’s great. But the weather does affect business, you can’t foresee sales. Winter was rough but people say we are ‘the best kept secret.’‘
The Ultimate Gift Shop
Sheila Denison was already the owner of a successful commercial cleaning service when she opened The Ultimate Gift Shop for one reason — “to glorify God.‘ That is her passion. By listening to the needs of her customers, she expanded her inspirational line of gifts to include Michigan-themed products and food and has been in business now for five and a half years.
“The biggest challenge is navigating through the slow time,‘ Denison said. “The first quarter of the year is slow, we don’t have the population here and we really rely on the weather. It’s hard to stay encouraged through the first three winter months. But you can make it if you do well the other nine months.‘
Your Sister’s Closet consignment shop
Kaycie Ramsey, like all downtown owners, had a rough winter.
“We were closed nine days between January and March — and I never close for weather. I live just down the street. What got me this year was the ice. It’s been feast or famine this year ... you never want to close ... people rely on that consistency.‘
So Ramsey walked to work through snow and ice storms, even when closed, using that time to change the store around.
Ramsey worked in downtown Cadillac retail for 14 years before she purchased Your Sister’s Closet. She has more than doubled her floor space and consignors by helping women of all ages look and feel good.
“The key to expanding and success is knowing what’s trending,‘ she said. “And you have to reinvent yourself, it’s the only way to succeed. We always change the store around. And we do after-hour parties.‘
Ramsey is also passionate about bringing awareness to community causes.
The Sweet Shop
Seventeen years ago Janeen Russell was a hairdresser “ready for a career change‘ when she purchased The Sweet Shop from her parents. The store’s signature Snowbirds and Turtles provided a firm foundation. Russell built on her parents’ legacy by continuing to improve product quality, customer service, and working with local fundraising events.
Her biggest challenge is “figuring the ebb and flow‘ to have enough staff without overstaffing because of labor costs.
“Customer service is No. 1,‘ she said. “We also love doing the fundraisers for OASIS and the hospitals. We donate ... and I find that very rewarding, giving back to the community that helped support me.‘