Tired of fighting that five o’clock traffic out to Short Pump Mall the Friday before a big event? Fed up with everyone wearing the same Free People dress as you? Bored of visiting the same stores you have visited since Middle School? Try stopping by the intersection of Libbie and Grove Avenues, the River Road Shopping Center, or even Stony Point Fashion Park. Although some locals may no realize it, Richmond is home to some of the best retail shops in Virginia. Short Pump may have some attractive stores, but nothing like what comes from the privately owned boutiques and shops. Nellie George and Wardrobe are two of the best Richmond shops that offer a wide variety of women’s clothing and are even located within seconds of each other. Monkees, a chain popular in both Richmond and North Carolina, has a location just down the street from the other two boutiques. Anthropologie is another larger chain located in malls across the country that is highly successful in all regions. Not only do these stores provide great styles for women of all ages, but three of the four also have Collegiate connections.
Fashion enthusiast Libba Wharton (‘14) had the opportunity to work at Nellie George this summer, home to some of the world’s top designers offered in Richmond. Located on Grove Avenue, this independently run boutique is owned and operated by Nancy Gottwald. The store is named after Gottwald’s two bulldogs, Nellie and George. By carrying inventory designed for both girls and their mothers, the store is always buzzing with various ages of customers. According to Wharton, the store’s busiest times (other than sale days) were toward the end of the school year, when many girls were preparing for graduation. However, it continued to stay busy through the beginning of summer as shoppers were packing for their summer vacations. Some of the most popular summer items were the Lokai bracelets and the SF gold hoops. “We have the hoops in a lot of different shapes and sizes and were constantly selling out and having to restock them,” says Wharton. Therefore, the store constantly receives new inventory and typically waits to put the items out when room becomes available on the clothing racks. Markdowns only occur if an item does not end up selling as well as they predicted. That being said, there is no standard timing for how long an item remains full price.
“Running a small business anywhere is a little like brain surgery, only harder! Truly, it’s an opportunity to be a CEO, CFO, HR director, and Marketing Director at the same time,” says Lynne Butz, owner of the boutique Monkees, located near the River Road Shopping Center. When Monkees opened in 2009, Buttz was not sure what to expect. This privately-owned boutique successfully survived the economic recession a few years ago and continues to attract lots of attention. Buttz contributes a piece of her own advice about becoming a store owner, “If you offer unique merchandise with great customer service, businesses can stand out in any field. It’s all about outworking everyone else and never becoming complacent.” That being said, Monkees generally has a high influx of customers during lunch hours, particularly between twelve to two p.m. Many customers stop by on their work breaks during the weekdays, in addition to the usual weekend traffic flow. Having previously been located in Short Pump, the store has re-located more towards the city and now attracts a different crowd of people. This strategic move has designed Monkees to be an individual destination, instead of a place to go after eating out at Panera. Monkees has been covered in many press interviews and won multiple awards for their top fashion, including the 2015 Retailer of the Year given by the NCRMA.
Katie Carr (‘16) had the opportunity to work as a Monkees summer intern this past summer and picked up on some behind-the-scenes details about the store. When asked about the boutique’s competition, Nellie George immediately came to Katie’s mind. Because both stores carry some of the same designers, such as Parker and House of Harlow, it is easy to draw in similar customers, especially since they are down the street from each other. Name brand dresses, shoes, jewelry, and other accessories are Monkee’s main inventory. With new items coming in about every other day, the employees are constantly occupied. Whether it’s unloading and steaming new items, or rearranging the displays to offer new options for customers, there is always something to be done. The store mannequins and front window displays are another important feature that is always being updated. To keep customers interested, mannequins are typically changed every ten days, and the front windows are altered due to seasonal events. New items are typically placed in the front and middle of the store, and the rest of the inventory works its way back as time goes on.
Most of Monkees inventory is relatively popular and tends to sell out very quickly; however, it usually takes around four weeks for certain items to officially be marked down as sale items. Monkees is known for selling all styles of Jack Rogers shoes, Yumi Kim dresses, OTBT wedges, and Bourbon and Boweties bracelets. However, if they are running low on stock or do not have the right size, Monkees is recognized for being “more than happy to order it for the customer.” That being said, “Monkee’s treats their customers very well and love to create a relationship with each customer so that they will return to the shop again,” Carr comments.
Whether you’re looking for the perfect dress for an upcoming event or a new sweater to add to your closet, Libbie Avenue is the place to visit. By offering high end clothing in a variety of colors, styles and sizes, you are bound to find what you are looking for at Wardrobe. However, inventory sells out quickly, so it’s best to visit the boutique every two weeks to a month, after new inventory has arrived. Tuesday through Thursday tend to be Wardrobe’s busiest hours, especially during lunch breaks between one and three p.m. High end designers such as Mara Hoffman, Amanda Uprichard, and Cynthia Steffe often appear on tables and in racks of Wardrobe’s store. According to Gracie Douglass, a seventeen-year-old employee from Douglas S. Freeman High School, “dresses and shirts with patterns have been most popular this season.” Wardrobe offers a variety of modernized accessories that typically appeal to shoppers walking around the Libbie and Grove area, a central location for their clientele. In addition, the boutique sees quite a few out-of-town shoppers as well. Family members staying with local Richmonders are often interested in where they shop and want to come visit the store. Wardrobe has even had shoppers from Italy visit them.
When an item is still on the Wardrobe clothing racks and has been full price for at least two seasons, it’s moved to the sale rack and marked down to sale price. When too much ‘out of season’ merchandise fill up the clothing racks, the employees know it is time to adjust prices. Employees receive a 35% discount on all merchandise purchased from the store. In addition to having access to modern collections at a discounted price, Douglass also loves previewing the new inventory and fashion trends before they are set out for sale in the store. All employees serve as personal stylists interested in helping shoppers with whatever assistance they may need. Wardrobe dressing rooms include large full-body mirrors and various sample shoes for trying on clothing. The large mirrors outside the dressing rooms are another plus for those evaluating their look from head to toe.
Some customers may consider Nellie George and Wardrobe to be competition, based on their similar styles and designer merchandise. Although Nellie George may offer clothing for a larger variety of females, they do not offer the same services as Wardrobe. Nonetheless, if you are in a last-minute fashion crisis and need professional assistance, Wardrobe is the place to shop. In addition, Wardrobe is known for their great one-on-one customer service. All employees are friendly and come off as being genuinely interested in each client who walks through their doors.
Not only are small boutiques known for their name brand styles, but they also serve as possible competition for larger chain stores such as Anthropologie. When asked whom she considered Anthropologie’s biggest competitors, former employee and Collegiate parent Beth Fallon immediately replied, “small boutiques.” Regardless, smaller stores are not the only places selling name brand clothing in Richmond. Anthropologie, owned by URBN, the same company in charge of Free People, is typically located in upscale fashion malls, such as our own Stony Point Fashion Park. By selling top-selling fashion brands that aren’t usually available anywhere except online, Anthropologie draws in a wide variety of customers. However, due to the recent opening of the Charlottesville location, the Stony Point location has not seen near as many out-of-town customers as it used to. Anthropologie is the type of store many women travel to when they are out of town simply “because they love it so much,” Mrs. Fallon commented. Saturdays and Sunday afternoons usually tend to be the store’s busiest hours, while the rest of the week is generally laid back. In addition, the holiday season also brings in a large influx of shoppers and creates a hectic environment with extremely long checkout lines.
Known for carrying brands such as Angel of the North, Moth, Left of Center, and 4 Collective, Anthropologie sells many popular flowy tops and ‘easy to wear’ dresses. Various brands of flare jeans, sweater ponchos, and warm clogs were also popular merchandise during Mrs. Fallon’s time at Anthropologie. By receiving anywhere between forty to sixty percent off all Anthropologie merchandise, Mrs. Fallon loved supporting Stony Point, especially because the mall has recently become more vacant. However, Anthropologie itself has no problems bringing in an abundance of customers, especially during large sales. By receiving new inventory daily, employees are able to implement markdowns on items each day as well. More or less, items are typically full price for about two months or so before they are considered sale items and moved to the back room. Therefore, most of the employee “team” working with Mrs. Fallon came from diverse backgrounds, including artistic college students. Not only did she appreciate meeting these new people, but Mrs. Fallon also mentioned enjoying helping her friends’ husbands shop for their wives. Forbes recently highlighted Anthropologie’s marketing and success in the retail world.
The latest trends surround the Richmond community and are offered in various small shops, privately-owned boutiques, and even chain stores. More specifically, some of the Collegiate community show off top styles as well, particularly those from Nellie George, Wardrobe, Monkees, and Anthropologie. Megan Stepanian (16’), a long-time Wardrobe shopper, has purchased multiple dresses for Homecomings and other Collegiate dances with the help of Wardrobe’s owner, Jessica. “Whenever I walk into wardrobe and have a short period of time, the staff is so helpful and always gives me options that know fit my style. They are very personable!” Megan comments. In addition, Collegiate sophomore girls love updating their closet with the latest Anthropologie tops and dresses each season. By frequently checking the “new arrivals” page on the store’s website, they are always aware of the newest styles. “The store always has so many opportunities to purchase clothing on sale for really good prices. They also sell a lot of other merchandise other than clothing, such as bedding, jewelry, home supplies, books, scarves, and a lot of other accessories. I always have a good shopping experience because most of their clothing is available in petites, which is very hard to find these days,” Kate Ferrell (18’) comments. Nellie George carries formal dresses and warm sweaters that are also popular throughout Collegiate Upper School. “Even though I don’t buy stuff every time I go in there, [Monkees’ employees] always comment on my current outfit and appearance,” says Kelsey Stratford (16’) about her experiences in Monkees.
Richmond, Virginia is a city composed of diverse styles and new, up-and-coming fashion trends that surround the entire city on a regular basis. Whether you’re into the urban stores of Carytown, the modern styles found in Short Pump, or the latest trends found at Libbie and Grove, Richmond offers plenty of options to choose from.