Occasional Shops Are Rewarding For Some, Frustrating For Others
With the arrival of Camy Couture in downtown Stillwater, shoppers and store owners discuss the pros and cons of occasional shops.
Now that warm weather is finally here, locals and tourists alike are flocking to downtown Stillwater to enjoy the unique shops, restaurants and scenery the city has to offer. This year shoppers are confronted with new options on Main Street: traditional versus occasional shops.
Occasional shops—clothing and accessory boutiques that are open only a few days a month—are a growing trend in the metro area. A new occasional shop, Camy Couture, opened in downtown Stillwater last month. Shoppers and store owners are split on the effectiveness of such occasional shops.
Joan Sleem, owner of Camy Couture, said the occasional shop style is perfect for her because it provides the flexibility she needs. “My parents are getting older and I need to take them to doctor’s appointments and things like that,” Sleem said. “My hours here are flexible.”
Many customers seem to enjoy the occasional shop concept as well. Camy Couture has seen a steady stream of visitors since its opening in May, and Sleem is able to keep the store afloat with sales during store hours and during private parties scheduled by appointment. She also offers “Shop for a Cause” fundraising events where she donates 10 percent of sales to a designated charity.
Leslie Fransen is one customer who frequents local occasional shops. She said she considers traditional stores to be “too cookie-cutter.” Fransen made the trip from Oakdale to visit stores, including Camy Couture, in downtown Stillwater. “I like the idea that someone is willing to do something different,” she said.
Another benefit of occasional shops, Sleem said, is that they frequently offer new inventory. “When people come back every 2 to 3 weeks there is new product out,” she said.
But not everyone is embracing the arrival of this new style of store. Mary Jo Hanscom and Pam Murphy of Burnsville, who were enjoying a cup of tea at Aprille’s Showers Tea Room before they began their Sunday shopping, agreed that the occasional shop experience can be stressful. “I find it frustrating,” Murphy said.
“When [occasional shops] are open they are so busy there’s a line down the street,” Hanscom said. “It’s overwhelming.”
Luckily for shoppers like Murphy and Hanscom, Stillwater still offers plenty of boutiques with traditional hours. The Fun Sisters Boutique is one of them.
The Fun Sisters Boutique relocated to downtown Stillwater one year ago, and at the same time switched from occasional to traditional store hours. The Fun Sisters Boutiques in Minneapolis and St. Paul are open only select days a month, but Manager MJ Skiba said tourism makes Stillwater special. “We saw the success of our stores up north in Nisswa and Pequot Lakes, which are also tourism towns, so we knew it would be successful to be open fulltime in Stillwater,” Skiba said.
The Fun Sisters Boutique developed a local Stillwater fan base while it was an occasional shop before moving downtown, Skiba said. Now those locals still frequent the store, but it is also accessible to tourists.
Other downtown boutiques are open traditional hours for similar reasons. Collaborations, a boutique on Main Street, relies heavily on tourism. “The majority of our traffic is definitely in the summer,” said Lauren Johnson, manager of the shop. However, it is clear Collaborations is supported by locals as well. “We have a pretty continuous flow of customers,” she said. “People like what they get here and keep coming back.”
Sleem, of Camy Couture, said that while she knows there are both pros and cons to owning an occasional shop, it can be the best of both worlds. “I’m here when the crowds are here,” she said. “I get the good with the bad.”