Shop Talk is a weekly column featuring locally owned and operated businesses. This week, we talk to Vicki Reiss, owner of the consignment and fair-trade shop Shakedown Street in Oneonta.
How did you get started in this line of work?
I started Shakedown Street back in the '90s. I was in my early 20s and I was kind of a little Deadhead, so I used to make a lot of clothes and jewelry. I was out in Colorado, and I was inspired by the chain store Buffalo Exchange, which was a consignment store, and that's where I got the idea to open up a store in Oneonta. So I did this while I was putting myself through school. Being from this area, I knew there wasn't really any other place to do this kind of thing, but I also knew there was a lot of cool stuff going on, especially with young people in the area, so I wanted to have a place where people could bring the clothes or jewelry that they made, and sell it.
I left the area in 2000 _ I was living down south for a while _ and I reopened the store two years ago this February.
Tell me about your business:
It's half consignment, half handmade and fair trade. We let our consignors set their prices, so they know they're going to get a fair price for what they put into it. The fact that I have people bringing inventory to me is awesome _ I buy the fair-trade items outright, and the rest is on consignment.
We also pick different charities to help out. I run the local runaway and homeless youth program, so having this business also gives me an opportunity to help out those kids. If I have a client who needs clothes, I can bring them down here and they can pick something out. We've donated clothing to Catholic Charities and the Family Service Association as well. Any agency or program that comes to us, we're always willing to help any way we can.
I'm tight with the other businesses in town. If I don't have something and I know that Maxwell's has it, I'll send the customer to Maxwell's. We have an agreement that we won't carry the exact same products, so that we can keep things unique.
Describe a typical day in your business:
We have people bringing things in constantly. One day we might be swamped with clothing consignments, and the next day we might have someone bringing in this beautiful jewelry that they made. We do payouts on a daily basis, so if someone's items sell, they can get their money any time.
I also have my career as a social worker, so it's a balance between the two.
Where do you see this business in five years?
I would love to expand _ the price of property is not like it was in the 1990s. Peter Clark is my landlord, and he's been fabulous to me. I absolutely could not have done this without him. But we are kind of crowded in here.
Since I first started this in the '90s, my dream has been to have a retail space where kids can go and have a place to hang out in the evening. There's a place in Binghamton that has a coffeeshop in the front, a retail section to the left that can be closed off at night, and at the back, there's a stage and an area with couches and a TV. So kids can come in, hang out with their friends, play video games, listen to music, whatever. Someday a spot will open up where I can do something like that.
Describe a memorable moment in your workplace:
Back in the '90s, before I was in the youth field, there was a major problem with shoplifting downtown. When I reopened the store two years ago, I had these two young men come in and introduced themselves to me. They said, "Don't you remember us? We used to wash your windows." I had caught them shoplifting years ago, and I sat them down and said, "Look, I can either call the police, in which case this is going to go on your record, or I can call your parents and we can make a deal where you can work this off." I explained to them, "You're stealing from your friends and neighbors. You're taking money out of someone's pocket right here in this community." And they remembered it all these years later. It really made a difference to them that I took the time to talk to them about it. It makes you feel good to think you made a difference to someone.
What is the hardest thing you have to do?
With the economy, you never know from one day to the next what will happen. But even when the economy is shot, women still love to shop, and they're still going to shop. They can come in here and find a brand-name handbag with the tag still on it. Back in the '90s, we had a little bit more of a hippie feel, but now we get a lot more label stuff. I don't know if it's coming from the college kids, or what, but we've got Prada, Gucci, Christian Dior _ and it's basically brand-new.
The most enjoyable?
It's fun to be creative, and it's great to see people learn about consignment. I just love what I do. I love seeing some little hippie chick walking down Main Street wearing something I made 10 years ago. The array of stuff we have is just amazing. We've got people doing metalwork, pottery _ we just got a guy who makes organic catnip toys. Those things sold like crazy at Christmas time. It's just a lot of fun. I don't want to turn anyone away _ we might turn away recycled clothing, but if it's an artist, I don't care if I have to hang it from the ceiling _ I'll find room for it.
What are some advantages/drawbacks of doing business in this area?
The good thing is the huge amount of talent in this area _ you couldn't ask for a better area as far as creativity and artistic talent.
One downside is the amount of empty storefronts on Main Street. No one can afford to pay $2,500 a month for some of these places. I wish some of the landlords would appreciate the fact that there are some amazing businesses in the area who could really use these spaces.
What advice would you give to someone trying to enter your field of work?
Go for it _ just do it. I encourage anybody to do this _ I'm not afraid to share my ideas with them. I do a lot of traveling, so I'm constantly looking at other business. My mind is always going. There's inspiration everywhere if you just look for it.
To suggest a business for Shop Talk, contact Emily F. Popek at 432-1000, ext. 255, or firstname.lastname@example.org.