Hip and accommodating

Ashley Drewes, with her cat, Jesse, near a display of boots and shoes.

When Ashley Drewes decided she wanted to run a vintage boutique, her original plan was to take over an existing Saugerties business with a proven track record. But when that fell through, she was forced to start from scratch, and that’s where the story of Sugartown Vintage Boutique begins.

It all happened very quickly for Drewes, a 2004 graduate of Saugerties High. She heard about the impending sale of Partition Street vintage retailer Pistol Whip Boutique in mid-August. She began getting serious about making a change in her life later that month, and by the time her hopes of buying the now-defunct business outright fell through in late-September, she’d already done enough prep work that what happened next was possible.

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“My inspiration was my fiancé, Josh Boughton,” she said.

Boughton, who used to run Mother Earth’s Storehouse on Main Street and currently works at Woodstock Apothecary, urged her not to give up when the deal fell through. Why not open a business herself?

Drewes, who’d spent the previous two years working with homeless adolescents for Family of Woodstock, wasn’t as sure.

“I thought I couldn’t just open a store,” she said. The more she thought about it, the better the idea sounded. “But I just put so much work and energy into buying a store that I eventually figured I could start from scratch.”

Not only did she gain the confidence to strike out on her own, she’s relished the freedom it’s provided.

“The nice thing was that this gave me more control to put more of myself into this,” she said. “I would have been playing editor to someone else’s baby. This is my project, and I get to make all the decisions, shop for the clothes, and pick the colors of the walls.”

 

Beginner’s luck

Drewes officially opened Sugartown at 114 Partition Street on Black Friday, November 26. She said things have gone smoothly, all things considered. “I think I got on the phone, and as soon as I knew I had the space available I started placing orders,” she said. “I guess I got really lucky.”

The research she did when she was planning to buy Pistol Whip came in handy. She’d already met with an attorney and a business consultant and had begun researching distributors who carried the type of clothing she wanted to sell.

“I had done some legwork, and I’d started collecting vintage clothing in the meantime,” Drewes said.

She picked up a valuable tip from a Family of Woodstock colleague. The co-worker told Drewes that she would have shopped at Pistol Whip, but she couldn’t fit into any of the clothes there.

And just like that, Drewes had her niche.

“I also can’t fit into a lot of boutique sizes and I consider myself a small person. And that was brilliant, I want to accommodate everybody. I had that light up right away,” said Drewes. “I started browsing larger scale distributors and I’d lined up a plus-size distributor. I’m the only independent plus-size vintage boutique in the area.”

Sugartown sells clothes by plus-size designer Cupcake and Cuddlebunny, as well as custom jewelry by WoodstockNYC.

 

Business better than she expected

So far, the decision to diversify the inventory seems to be paying off.

“A lot of folks who have been coming in have been whole families,” Drewes said. “I’ve had people purchasing from me of all ages and genders. Older men coming in for boots or belts, older women for broaches or gift items. A lot of younger people are the ones buying the clothing.”

Drewes already speaks the language of the 21st century small business, stressing the importance of keeping dollars local and the inherently smaller carbon footprint of retail on this scale.

“I was a loyal customer of Pistol Whip and liked the idea of supporting local businesses and reusing clothing,” she said. “It’s sort of a green venture, and it’s also keeping this type of business in town.”

So far, the response has been positive, enough to exceed Drewes’ modest expectations.

“I think my expectations were low, and I knew that I had to pull through the holidays and ride out the dead months, because I feel the Woodstock and Saugerties area drops off after Christmas and picks up in spring,” she said. “And I was actually surprised by the foot traffic in town. Based on the feedback I’ve gotten, I’m definitely hopeful that I’ll have fairly steady business through the winter months, though I don’t have any grandiose idea of what steady business looks like.”

Drewes said she’s trying to provide a friendly browsing experience, offering free cups of hot tea and enticing feline enthusiasts to visit by keeping her four-month old kitten in the shop.

As for the name, it came up in conversations with fellow Saugertesians who’d gone away for college.

“They would tell people where they were from, and a lot of people who were not from Saugerties couldn’t pronounce it, so it became Sugartown,” she said.

Whatever happens, Drewes thinks she’ll be ready to roll with the punches thanks to her prior professional experience.

“If you can work with angry teenagers, that should prepare you for anything life might throw at you,” she said.

 

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