By Wendy Culverwell and Kristina Lord
Cindy Mosley-Cleary took over a gift shop in downtown Kennewick about six years ago and made it her own, packing it with charming pick-me-ups and home décor items.
She may be relatively new at owning a retail business, but she had decades of retail sales experience before then. When supply chain issues started making headlines, Mosley-Cleary knew what to do: Order, order, order.
She laid in a supply of bags, C.C. beanies, Pop Its, key chains, toys, home décor items and more for her store, The Lady Bug Shoppe, 304 W. Kennewick Ave.
Heading into the holiday shopping season, she’s hopeful Tri-Citians will shop local for the holidays, a mood that’s reflected in choice of motif she chose for her windows this holiday season.
Rather than paint a festive Christmas scene on the glass, she chose white birch trees and red cardinals.
“Hope. That’s what cardinals are,” she said.
The holiday season is in full swing and mom-and-pop shops are competing against big box retailers and the internet with a combination of charm and grit. The Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business hit the streets in early November to take the temperature of retailers in Kennewick, Pasco and Richland.
In addition to the Lady Bug Shoppe, the Journal of Business team dropped by a vintage store and a new gift shop at the Uptown Shopping Center in Richland, a furniture store and a formal dress boutique in downtown Pasco and a statuary business in downtown Kennewick.
It found a mix of scrappy entrepreneurs and established businesses with a united message: Shop Local. The Saturday after Thanksgiving is the official “Shop Local” day.
Of course, shopping local doesn’t have to be a one-day affair.
As the pandemic ground Donna Gleason’s pet sitting business to a halt, she knew she needed to do something to keep busy.
“I was losing my mind. I can’t stand sitting around. Nobody was going on vacation or going to work,” said the owner of Fur Baby Love & Care.
She pivoted to mask making, using leftover fabric from a neglected Etsy shop to launch herself into the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) industry.
She knew she needed to find a place to work, as having two teenagers trapped in close quarters at home didn’t help matters, she said with a laugh.
“I found a place at the Uptown. It was pretty cheap and I rented it, and it’s morphed into what it is,” she said, securing the lease in August 2020.
Mask sales were brisk but eventually tapered off at the little Uptown shop, tucked into one of the shopping center’s alley ways.
As sales waned, Gleason and her daughter Sarah Bolles debated their next steps.
They toyed with the idea of sustainable products like paper straws and reusable bags (what she calls “crunchy stuff”). But the vision came into better focus after Sarah visited a Walla Walla store that sold crystals.
She told her mom she wanted to do something similar in Richland. They renamed the store Saphira’s Treasures.
“We ordered necklaces and bracelets, and people were really excited about them. Sarah was like, ‘These are awesome.’ We were basically like, ‘That’s cool. Let’s sell that,’ ” Gleason said.
As people began traveling again, the pet sitting business also picked back up.
Gleason has left the store management to her daughter, who has taken over picking out inventory, receiving, pricing and minding the store.
She turned her attention back to Fur Baby Love & Care as demand grew when people started planning trips again, right around spring break.
A large percentage of her clientele are those who work long days in the Hanford area, as well as nurses and doctors.
“All of sudden everybody was ready,” she said. “Spring break was like, ‘Yikes!’ It’s mellowed out a little bit. Now we’re pretty steady.”
In January, she bought Royalty Pet Care, which helped the business add new clients during the slow start to the year.
She began 2021 with one employee and is now up to five. Prior to the pandemic she had four and had to drop down to one when business dried up. She said she’s almost completely booked for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
“Now I’m thinking about getting a sixth person,” she said.
She said she’s been having a hard time finding quality employees.
She used to post help wanted ads on Facebook and would see 50 applicants over the course of a few days.
“I’m still getting a fair number but they just aren’t the right fit,” she said. “So I don’t know what’s up with that. Lately the good ones have been through friends of current pet sitters or through the clients.”
Hunt and Gather Antiques and Vintage has a loyal following, including frequent out-of-town visitors, said Cheryl Ziemer, who co-owns the vintage store in Richland’s Uptown Shopping Center with her husband, Paul.
“It’s unreal. They’re here and they visit and they come in. We get great comments about our store,” she said.
“People love to socialize with us. We have so many regular customers. They just like to gather and talk – and of course they love to shop.”
Ziemer said she strives to make Hunt and Gather inviting. First impressions are everything, she said.
“When they walk into your store, that’s what they see – the first impression. You want to make your customers happy so you want to have a happy place,” she said.
Hunt and Gather offers space to about a dozen vendors who resell vintage products, including household and decorative items. It had to close briefly in the pandemic but reopened with no issues.
Today, it has a waiting list of people who want to lease space there, said Paul, who was staffing the register during a recent visit. He is optimistic that the 2021 holiday season will be strong.
“This year has been a really good year. We’re looking forward to Christmas. ‘Shop Local’ is going to be big for us,” he said.
Hunt and Gather isn’t affected by supply chain issues since it is a vintage business, but it has struggled with a reduction in the estate sales, yard sales and similar events that bring treasures to its doorstep.
Paul said the hot items in vintage include midcentury items, including furniture, “crusty-rusty” furniture and nostalgia items, including music cassettes and vinyl.
What doesn’t sell anymore? Grandma’s dinner China, glassware and silver, he said.
“It’s a good time to get into glassware,” he joked.
This year’s hot colors for quinceanera dresses are lilac, light blue and red.
The riot of color is on full display in the windows of Llane’s Boutique, a downtown Pasco store that caters to teens turning 15 years old who need formal wear for their traditional coming-of-age celebrations.
Last year was rough on the special events industry thanks to shutdowns and cancellations.
One reason Llane’s is so well stocked is that many of its 2020 orders were canceled.
Store manager Ana Orozco, who has worked at the shop for the past six years, hopes sales will be better in the coming year.
“We normally sell 300 dresses a year. With the pandemic, it’s been pretty much 200 dresses because they canceled,” she said.
“We also have a big sales for communions and proms, and we don’t have that either.”
Replenishing dress inventory has been challenging as well, Orozco said, with supply chain issues affecting stores around the country and world.
“It’s been so hard and prices are so high as well,” she said, adding that the boutique does offer a layaway payment plan.
The store’s busiest season is the five-month span from spring into summer. In addition to outfitting young women for quinceaneras, it dresses customers for proms and weddings.
Pointing to an embroidered horse stitched onto a striking black-and-gold gown, Orozco said teens can swap out designs and colors on some dresses according to their likes and interests. Some dresses can take up to three months to arrive at the store.
The large store offers a wide variety of dresses to choose from, making it easy to pivot when teen preferences change.
Orozco said girls who attended fall homecoming dances wanted floor-length, sleek gowns instead of shorter lengths this year. They also passed over last year’s colors of burgundy and rose gold, she said.
The store opened in 2012 and has been in its current location for two years.
It features two floors of sparkly, embroidered, poufy and ethereal dresses in a variety of styles and colors for a range of special occasions: baptisms, First Communion, quinceaneras, proms and weddings.
Quinceanera packages featuring elaborate decorated dolls (to match the teen’s special dress) envelope boxes, Bibles, scrapbooks, bouquets and champagne flutes also are sold there. When needed, store owners Ismael Llanes and Jorge Lopez can be found in a back room designing and making them to make sure they’re ready for the special day.
Llane’s also offers tuxedo rentals, shirts and accessories for boys and men, and dresses for mothers of the bride, as well as shoes.
One of the joys of working at the shop is seeing happy customers, Orozco said.
“Last Saturday I saw a dad crying as soon as he saw his daughter with the dress. All of those emotions. Oh my gosh,” she said.
Mercedes Isidro has been a seamstress for more than 25 years, including the past six providing alterations in downtown Pasco’s fancy dress shops.
In November, she took the leap and opened her own place. Inovaciones Faviola offers casual clothes, including dresses, jeans and jackets and some home goods such as blankets and comforters.
She wants to provide an every-day apparel alternative to the formal wear shops that cater to special occasions – weddings, quinceanearas, proms, weddings, baptisms, First Communions and more that are common in the heart of downtown.
She will offer alteration services as well in a sewing room at the back of the shop.
She was still setting up the store in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. Before she opened the doors, Isidro and an assistant traveled to Los Angeles to buy merchandise from wholesalers. Now that she’s established connections, she intends to order directly.
After 25 years offering alteration services through other businesses, Isidro is pleased to be her own boss.
“Es bien. It’s fine,” she said.
Fernanda Guzmán joined Galerías La Estrella, a furniture business with large showrooms in Pasco and Sunnyside and a warehouse at King City, about two years ago, just before the Covid-19 pandemic.
She is undaunted by the contrast between before and after and greets visitors in full sales mode at the well-stocked Pasco store.
A full showroom wouldn’t be unusual in typical times, but the furniture industry is beset by reports about supply chain issues and that new sofas are hard to come by.
Not so for Galerías, said Guzmán. The owners anticipated the problem and have $2 million in inventory stashed away. Everything available on the two sales floors in Pasco, where the large showroom is matched by an equally large basement, is available for immediate delivery.
“No waiting for anything here,” she said. The main concession is that it’s difficult to custom order pieces because vendors are having labor and supply issues
The stores closed during the pandemic shutdowns, but have thrived since they reopened. Guzmán was pleasantly surprised by the volume of customers who came in after the first economic stimulus checks were sent out in 2020, with many buying furniture for their children.
Customers also have been eager to upgrade their furnishings after a year-plus of working from home. Sofas and mattresses are top sellers.
“We have been doing really good,” she said.
The furniture season typically slows down in December and January, but restarts with tax rebate season after New Year’s.
Randy Blumer earned a degree in fine arts and made a living as a commercial real estate broker.
He could retire, but when a tenant for a building he owns in downtown Kennewick disappeared one night, he decided to take over the space himself.
The result was Concrete Jungle Outdoor Decor, which sells fountains, garden statues, figurines and more.
That was seven years ago, and he’s still at it. If he wasn’t having fun, he said, he’d close and retire.
Concrete Jungle isn’t a typical holiday business. It is seasonal, roughly mirroring irrigation season.
It typically closes by Thanksgiving and reopens in late February or early March when Tri-Citians emerge and take stock of their yards but he’ll happily meet with customers during the winter months by appointment.
His customers are homeowners and the occasional landscaper.
The pandemic has brought its challenges, but Blumer said Concrete Jungle broke even in 2020 and was tracking to turn a profit in 2021. He expects a strong year in 2022 as well.
For Blumer, switching from disinterested landlord to downtown business owner opened his eyes to the thriving culture of Kennewick’s historic sector.
He praised the many restaurants and the sense of camaraderie among shop owners, and the newcomers, such as Red Mountain Commercial Kitchen, who are bringing in new customers.
“This will be open as long as I’m enjoying it,” he said. “I love it. People are great. I love to talk.”
As he prepared to close for the season, one item in his inventory wasn’t for sale. A Renaissance-style statue of a woman lay artfully broken in half. There wasn’t anything artful about her though: The concrete statue broke when it fell from a delivery truck.
Blumer loves her and so to do the customers who want to buy her for their own garden follies.
“She’s mine to keep. I like her. They can buy a new one and take a sledgehammer to her,” he said.
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