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May 15th, 2002 Elizabeth Dye | Fashion
 

SAVVY'S SAVOIR FAIRE

Customer concerns save a popular Portland boutique.

     
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Contrary to rumor, the fat lady has NOT sung, at least not yet, for Savvy Plus.

A Hawthorne District consignment shop specializing in clothing for women sizes 12 to 32, Savvy Plus almost closed its door this month. The "failure" of this popular resale specialty boutique was blamed on everything from declining foot traffic to sluggish sales. But in what amounted to an eleventh-hour gesture of retail faith, longtime Savvy clerk Gaya Amundson purchased the store from its owner, Ursula Dohn.

In business for 12 years, Savvy has nurtured a loyal community of big gals who sought to buy, sell and consign pretty clothes as their bodies changed.

"Many of the pieces we sell would be very expensive new," says new shop owner Amundson. "There's a need and a niche for beautiful clothes that accommodate life changes." Plus, if you're a larger-size woman, the already trying task of finding flattering frockage is exacerbated by the evolving dilemma of body size. Many zaftig women fluctuate in weight--they ride a metabolic yo-yo, or struggle with the successes and setbacks of the weight-loss journey.

Customer Sally Erickson found SP to be a stylish--and affordable--solution.

"A lot of Savvy's regular customers are worried about money and are 'waiting to lose weight' until they buy new clothes," says Sally. "Big discount chains don't usually have the quality stuff I'm looking for, and being a size 12-14 woman often puts me above the limits of smaller resale boutiques."

An ideal arrangement--so what went wrong?

Like dozens of hometown indie businesses, Savvy Plus buckled under last year's one-two fiscal punch. The Hawthorne Bridge closures during the filming of The Hunted diverted traffic away from the neighborhood. Then Sept. 11 temporarily cold-cocked shopping. Those factors alone might be enough to strangle a small business. Yet Savvy was supposed to be different.

Amundson concludes that most customers just didn't know how dire the situation was. "Consignment stores took it particularly hard after 9/11," she says, mentioning the recent closure of a Vancouver plus-size boutique called Big Ideas. "People stayed home at first. Then everyone wanted to sell their clothes, but no one wanted to buy."

Savvy's fortunes reversed in mid-April, when there was a mention of Savvy's imminent closure in a Sunday edition of the Oregonian. After the story, estranged/enraged clientele stampeded the shop.

"Customers were crying, they were depressed, they wouldn't leave the store," says Amundson. But, much to the customers' chagrin, Dohn had already finalized plans to close Savvy's doors and relocate to New England. It took a look in the mirror for Amundson to take the leap.

"I had a selfish moment where I realized, 'My God, I've been buying my clothes here for 12 years. What am I going to do?'" She made Dohn a cash offer, which was quickly accepted. Now, Savvy Plus is not only open, but actively buying for spring and summer.

In her new role, Amundson plans to emphasize and enhance what once made Savvy successful: sincere, deadeye service. "We don't let a customer walk away with something that will rot in her closet," Amundson insists. "Everyone chimes in with suggestions when someone's trying something on--it's truly a community effort."

The new plans--from expanded hours to a suggestion box to consignment home pickup--strive to be responsive to a clientele often underappreciated by mainstream retail.

If Savvy's luck has really turned, the clientele will return the favor.


 

Savvy Plus
3204 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 231-7116




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