Highlighting Small Businesses: Boutique offers unique selection
NORTHVILLE — The local historical society here once produced posters which convey in words and photos the commercial narratives of different buildings. Some of these are affixed to the structures and some are displayed through windows.
At 142 N. Main St., in the building that long ago hosted the Hard Pan Store, a poster lists the other enterprises which have traded there since the place was built about 171 years ago. There have been assorted businesses, including two beauty shops, a movie theater, a gift shop, a chapter of the Golden Rule Lodge, a barber shop and the offices of a utility company.
Since 2012, according to a bulleted sentence on the poster, 142 N. Main has been the home of Just Because Boutique. It is hard to distill much history in a single line, and the store’s owner realizes that nine years measure short inside of 17 decades. Carla Kolbe believes her shop has the right inventory and proper ambience to allow for a long run in the old building.
“This store is very comfortable,” she said while in the boutique on a recent morning. “It has its charm. It’s not like a strip mall.”
Kolbe, who lives nearby, went from customer to proprietor in 2018, when she left her public relations job at Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville.
“I was a frequent flier in here,” she recalled. “I used to come in and just load up.”
When founder Bonnie Quackenbush decided to retire, she offered to sell Kolbe the store.
“She thought I would be a good fit,” Kolbe said. “And it was a really fun experience, up until COVID, when things got a little scary.”
Since taking over three years ago, Kolbe has been through a retail boom, a closure caused by the coronavirus, then uncertainties and hesitancies from both customers and suppliers as nonessential stores like hers reopened for business last summer. She remains hopeful of a full retail recovery.
“I have been so busy the last few weekends,” Kolbe said. “It’s really amazing. There have already been runs of clothes that have gone out.”
Just Because Boutique sells clothing and accessories for women.
Some teens patronize the store, the owner explained, but most of the customers are ladies from older age groups. Kolbe said the mothers of the teens or their mothers are more likely to be browsing the aisles of the shop, which has two adjoining storefronts.
“I don’t get anything that’s regular because I can’t compete with box stores in buying multiples of white T-shirts,” Kolbe said. “If I get a T-shirt, it’s going to be something with something extra to it, whether it has a ruffle or a cute sleeve or an interesting neckline.”
Kolbe runs the store with one employee, Amy VanDerwerker, a holdover from when Quackenbush was the proprietor. “She has great retail savvy,” Kolbe said. “And I trust her. She can dress somebody.”
COVID-19 kept Just Because Boutique closed from between April and June last year. Kolbe considered offering curbside service during the closure, but dismissed it as impractical because most people want to try on clothing before making a purchase.
Even before the pandemic, Kolbe thought about doing online sales.
Since she orders in small quantities, and has a tiny staff, the effort to simultaneously track online and floor inventories was considered too bothersome. Internet sales also eliminate the personal touch.
“This is a nice little shop where people can come in,” Kolbe said. “They try on clothes. We work individually with them.”
Kolbe said the merchandise offerings have been changed, slightly, since she took over the boutique, but the feel of the store — which uses old doors, headboards and window frames as display fixtures — was unchanged from when it was operated by Bonnie Quackenbush.
“Bonnie was an interior decorator,” Kolbe said. “I think she had it set up right, because people are very comfortable when they come in.”
When Just Because Boutique reopened, last July, a Thursday-to-Sunday schedule was maintained. The owner said she may resume a seven-day operation after Memorial Day.
The clothing inventory includes different dresses, denims and Capri pants. Jewelry is sold as accessories, along with a large selection of scarves. No items are priced over $100.
As she showed a visitor the store, Kolbe remarked about her continuing amazement at how a few tweaks of a wardrobe can change a person’s look.
“It’s a lot of fun to show people how you can go from casual to dressed up with just a couple of quick switches,” she said. “You can put something on with a pair of flip flops or you can put it on with a pair of heels, too. Throw a scarf over it and you’re dressed up.”