Cliché? Sure. But for one woman, these words rang true on a recent visit to Augusta Mae Boutique & Fine Consignment. There it was. The fur coat she always dreamt of owning and at a price she could afford.
“She was so excited. She wore the coat out of the store on her way to Pathmark,” said owner Kim Capece. Her partner, Clara Nunziato, described it as just “one of those moments” that makes being a business owner so much fun. This new store recently expanded to accommodate the growing consignment inventory of clothing, jewelry and accessories, many with high-end designer labels.
Downtown Cranford is home to four consignment and resale stores selling clothing for children and adults, sporting equipment, toys, china, jewelry and more. When Augusta Mae opened a year ago, they joined Milk Money, a children’s consignment store open since 2007, and Green Sports NJ, celebrating its 2nd anniversary selling sports clothing and equipment.
The longest operating consignment store in the area, The Jumble Store, opened in 1933. Originally named “The Nearly New Shop”, the store was previously located at 13 Eastman Street and 10 South Avenue before moving to 110 Walnut Avenue in 1976.
The growing interest in consignment and resale shopping has grown but many will tell you that “high end” consignment stores have been popular for a long time. Consignments stores can be found at the country’s most fashionable addresses like Madison Avenue, Short Hills and consignment row in Palm Beach. Even the pages of the vaunted Style Section of the Sunday NY Times carries consignment store ads.
For some, giving quality clothes, toys and sports equipment a second chance to shine appeals to their belief in “recycle and reuse”. One regular consignment shopper summed it up perfectly. “Consignment used to mean cheap. Now, it has a polished, more hip image.” Maybe pre-owned is the new “new”.
A Loyal Following
While major retailers struggle to maintain customer loyalty, these shops all have a dedicated, loyal following. Take a peek at Milk Money’s Facebook page. More than 1,000 followers, including some who don’t even have small children, enjoy the dialogue and joking between customers. The first person who posts “Save that for me” is often declared the winner.
Of course, owner Margaret Sacco’s quick wit doesn’t hurt. “She’s so funny and her Facebook is entertaining,” said local realtor Sharon Steele. “My kids are past that age but I love looking at the toys, reading Margaret’s comments and responses to her customers”, she added.
Margaret’s foray into retail was launched after talking with other young moms about the high cost of children’s clothing. Consignment seemed like a fantastic answer so she joined Milk Money, a franchise with five stores including Princeton, Montclair and Maplewood, all owned by moms.
Milk Money outgrew its original space and moved to a bright store located in Cranford Crossing. The colorful store is filled with gently-used clothing for newborns to size 14. In addition to toys and games, shoppers can get real finds from Uggs, Northface, Ergo Baby Carriers, MacLaren and Prego strollers and children’s furniture. At Milk Money, consigners get 50% of the sale price, which is determined by the store.
The most popular event at Milk Money is the Bag Sale, held twice a year. Passersby will know when it’s Bag Sale Day because the line winds down the street with customers clutching their empty bags ready for a shopping spree. For $10, customers get to take away everything they can fit in the bag. Anything left after the sale is donated to the Battered Women’s Shelter of the YWCA of Eastern Union County.
A Store Where Sales and Service Meet
The Jumble Store has a long history of community service that remains the foundation of the business and the organization behind the enterprise: The Junior League of Elizabeth-Plainfield. More than a resale shop, The Jumble Store is committed to the tradition of community service with programs like Career Closet and the Prom Dress Drive. All the revenue from the store goes back to local communities.
Every Wednesday morning, the second floor becomes a very special place for women referred by social service agencies. On this day, the women can select eight articles of clothing and accessories for work or a job interview at no cost and also get advice about proper work attire and interviewing.
This time of year, the Prom Dress Drive makes wishes come true for many young girls who can’t afford an expensive gown or evening dress. For just $25 dollars, high school girls can purchase a fashionable gown that was likely worn just once.
Long time manager Marge Szymona describes the store as a friendly place to visit. “We know most of our customers by name” she said. Marge remembers just how important the store was after storms Irene and Sandy wreaked havoc on Cranford and the area. “We were a lifeline to people who desperately needed clothing and household items.”
Volunteers are also an important part of the store handling everything from sales to stocking. And no one can be more dedicated than 93 year old Cranford resident Janet Randall who faithfully shows up for work once a week.
Has sports equipment taken over your garage?
If it is in good condition, Green Sports NJ just might be the place for that collection of soccer shoes, lacrosse sticks, golf clubs and baseball gloves inhabiting your garage. The store, located at 100 N. Union Avenue, is run by the ARC of Union County as a resale shop and job training program.
The store is well stocked with equipment and apparel, some brand new, for just about every sport from baseball to hockey, tennis to skiing and everything in between. Store manager Tyechia Smith described the typical customer as parents from Cranford and neighboring towns looking for items for their growing children and local teenagers interested in equipment. What’s most popular? Like any sports store, it’s the merchandise for the current sports season.
What makes this store really special is the job training program component. The store is staffed with participants from the Union County ARC program. Under the supervision of a job coach, the employees are trained to clean merchandise, research items to determine price, merchandise display, run the register and of course, customer assistance.
Tyechia emphasized the valuable experience of working in the store. “Our employees are talented and dedicated and the store experience has been tremendous for them. “They have grown in confidence and it’s great to see how the customers have come to know and rely on our team”, added Tyechia.
Designer handbags at 60% off
Striking the balance between pricing to attract customers and fairness to the consigner is important in resale stores. Kim and Clara at Augusta Mae talk with their consigners to get the history of the clothing and accessories, especially the high end designer pieces. “We will let them set the price but most ask our advice,” said Clara. This policy is likely the reason designer handbags and shoes from Coach, Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo and Kate Spade don’t stay on the shelves for very long.
The owners are delighted to see their loyal following grow from the seasoned consignment shopper to teenagers and college students. “Teenagers are very savvy shoppers and really like our Boutique items. Our youngest customer is an 8th grader who is a consigner and manages her account every few weeks”, explained Kim.
Like the other local resale stores, August Mae also carries new merchandise, like trendy jewelry and hair accessories, in the “Boutique” section of their shop at 35 Alden Street.
Making customers feel welcome.
These business owners have something in common: they really like their jobs, their customers and Downtown Cranford.
Margaret Sacco worried she might lose customers when the store moved to a new location. The response from customers? “We’ll follow you anywhere.”
Step inside Augusta Mae and you will find two friends and business partners well on the way to their goal of making Cranford “just a little more special”.
Ask Peter what he enjoys most about working in Green Sports NJ and he will tell you it is “helping customers.” Oh, and he also really likes football and the Giants.
And, after 33 years, Jumble Store customers still say shopping there is like visiting a friend. It doesn’t get much better than that.
About the author:
Kathleen Miller Prunty is Director of Cranford Township’s Office of Business & Economic Development and past President of Downtown NJ.