Mary Liz Flavin | news editor
Dec. 2, 2021
In the shadow of national chains and big box stores are small businesses, tucked away in shopping plazas and strip malls. While these businesses face pressure from outside competition as well as the growing market and demand from online shopping, they can become easily overlooked. However, small businesses offer more interpersonal connections as well as products from local vendors that people can’t find anywhere else.
Rue Boutique, a lifestyle boutique with high end, high quality products, works with clients to shape their wardrobe, as well as promote sustainable products. In addition they do homestyling and private events. This past Friday they celebrated their 5 year anniversary.
Kristen Celly, store manager, said that one of the main differences between working at a small business versus a larger corporation is the ability to get involved with a lot of projects.
“You can be a part of everything rather than just having one particular job. You have to wear a lot of different hats. If something needs to get done, then you still have to be able to do it – which can get kind of tricky for some people but it can also be rewarding,” Celly said.
At the core of Rue Boutique’s values is sustainability and community. With products such as clothing, jewelry and home decor that range on the more expensive side, the boutique looks at customers’ investment in long lasting products.
“Unfortunately fast fashion is all we can afford sometimes, but it’s better to invest in something that will last you longer. We value being a part of the small business world here in Pittsburgh and the community in the sense of welcoming our customers and forming relationships with them,” Celly said.
Rue Boutique is not the only store focused on community. Style Encore, an independent women’s resale store and trademark of the Winmark Corporation, focuses on creating a good environment for customers and workers alike.
Jenna Geisler, manager of Style Encore, has been working with the store for nearly six years. She said the job allows her to be close-knit to the highschool girls and other women she works with, and it reminds her of her past experiences.
“It’s definitely a family atmosphere, not like the store at the mall or something at the corporate level. It’s really been a core thing in my life since I was younger so it’s cool to see the younger girls here since I’m one of the older people here and can mentor the younger girls,” Geisler said.
Small businesses like Style Encore allow opportunities for people in the community to get to know one another who might have not gotten that chance. Students from the Hampton, Shaler and North Hills area are able to work at Style Encore as well as their sister stores Plato’s Closet and Once Upon a Child.
As a resale store, customers looking to sell their clothing get paid cash right then and there according to Geisler. Encore pays anywhere from 30 to 40% on regular clothing items and up to 50% for higher value items such as purses and Louis Vuitton articles. In addition, all products in the store are 50 to 90% off normal mall and retail store prices.
Geisler said that even with the money you save, it goes a long way, more-so than it would in a corporate atmosphere.
“Especially now-a-days with everything that is going on in the world, supporting small and local, it’s like you want to do a little bit more now. Seeing our regulars coming back in from us being closed is amazing, and you really feel like you have a purpose and can reach more people. Even though you are considered a small business, you can still do big things,” Geisler said.
For those looking to show off their Pittsburgh pride, Shop412 is a local apparel store that aims to represent the city as well as takes on projects that help make the community a better place.
Store owner, Aaron Kinkela, started Shop412 with his brother Christian Kinkela to create a brand that celebrates Pittsburgh’s emerging generation of creators and athletes where “in Pittsburgh, Hometown is Hero.”
“Day to day small business is small business – not always fun but you know that is what we believe, this is what we do and live for. We’ve been here for 13 to 14 years. It’s cool to see the city change over time and coming up and seeing what the youth are up to,” Kinkela said
Shop412 not only sells sweatshirts, t-shirts, hats and other apparel items but they also take part in 412 projects where the company works alongside the fire department, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Pittsburgh Penguins, artists such as Lupe Fiasco and others to create custom gear as well as give back.
Their most recent project 412 X The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy celebrates the conservancy’s 25th anniversary. According to the Shop412 website, a portion of the proceeds will support planting trees for the non-profit organization. With a purchase of one of the items deemed with the Pittsburgh Parks logo the customer receives a grow-your-own Blue Spruce tree kit, gardening gloves included.
“Honestly it’s about community and giving back, it’s a place to generate new, fun ideas. It’s a retail store first and foremost but it’s also a brand that’s a part of the community,” Kinkela said.