Ashley Drewes works with at-risk youth at Boys & Girls Club

“I’m sorry to be closing, but that’s business,” said Ashley Meghan Drewes, 25, who’s shuttering Sugartown Vintage Boutique on Partition Street in Saugerties at the end of December.

While going out of business was initially a fairly painful and emotional decision, Drewes quickly landed a new job nearby, doing something else she loves to do: work with at-risk youth. As of December 19, she’s the new program director for the Saugerties Boys and Girls Club, which provides youth guidance and recreation.

“I don’t know if it’s karma or luck,” said Drewes, “but only a short while after I decided to close the store, a close friend spotted the job advertisement on the Ulster Publishing website and e-mailed me immediately.”

Advertisement

“‘You’re perfect for this job!’ she told me. I hadn’t even publicly announced I was closing the store, but I quickly sent my resume to Roland Carito,” the Saugerties Club’s director of operations, said Drewes. The application, interview and hiring process all happened around Thanksgiving. The club’s been understaffed since the departure of Lydia O’Connor, who left on good terms to pursue an educational opportunity after just two months in the post.

“As it became more apparent that I was a likely candidate, I felt more and more strongly that this was going to be an incredible opportunity for me,” said Drewes. “I can’t believe how lucky I’ve been. This position at the Boys and Girls club opened up at just the right time for me.”

When she called to give notice at Family of Woodstock, where she’s been working on a per-diem basis, “They were just as excited as I was,” said Drewes. “‘We were just talking about how perfect you’d be for that job!.”

Drewes will still work at Sugartown on weekends until its doors close forever on December 31. A friend will run the boutique during the week during the transition period.

While it was exciting to open her own business in her early twenties, it also proved a constant uphill struggle. Everything cost more than Drewes had initially expected.

Drewes said that the experience of starting her own business has given her a lot of valuable life experience. Among them, perseverance, but even that eventually had to be tempered by reality. “Everyday something happened which did not meet my expectations, but you learn to suck it up,” said Drewes. “But I’m glad I did what I did, instead of going back to school” like so many people her age have done.

 

Learning on the job

There are a lot of unemployed people her age with master’s degrees right now. She suspects that she’s learned more about marketing and management as a small business owner than she would have learned in a classroom.

And she has a fabulous and eclectic wardrobe.

As sales continued to lag expectations, Drewes acquired some debt. Sugartown opened on Black Friday, 2010 with an initial investment of about $20,000. “I could have been better capitalized initially,” said Drewes, a tad wisftully.

A sore spot was the approximately $5000 she said she spent improving the store’s interior. She repaired damaged walls, painted the space, and added new lighting fixtures.

Over the past year, many Saugertiesians came to know Drewes through her active involvement in almost everything which happened in the village, and also through her vibrant status updates on Facebook. Deeply integrated into the arts scene, Drewes often held small gatherings at the store, including weekly poetry readings for a while, and sometimes live music. She also organized and hosted six larger events, mostly fundraisers.

But Sugartown never quite found its customer base, although it had loyal fans as a funky hipster entertainment venue of sorts. “But in the middle of all of it I got sick, and I wasn’t really making great business decisions,” said Drewes.

In late October, Drewes was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an auto-immune disease in which the thyroid gland is gradually destroyed by the body’s immune system. Common symptoms of Hashimoto’s included fatigue, panic attacks, memory loss, muscle weakness and migraines, none of which are helpful to a struggling young entrepreneur in a tough economy.

“The medical issue was affecting my brain. I wasn’t able to look directly at certain issues, and I kept setting up events, and bringing in new vendors,” said Drewes. She’s feeling better now that she’s taking thyroid medication.

 

Rent raise leads to closing

“When my landlord wanted to raise my rent 17%, after having been reluctant to take care of certain issues, I realized I would have to close the store,” said Drewes. She’d been paying $850 a month, heat and hot water included. The cost of electricity, phone and Internet access added to the overhead.

The building in which Sugartown is located is owned by Michael Persico and managed by Mark Burns. Persico, who owns a home on Blue Mountain Road, could not be reached for comment.

Drewes said that an initial problem with the store’s floors was quickly repaired. But the atmosphere remained diminished by a persistent odor of skunk. A skunk apparently lives under the Partition Street building. Although Drewes repeatedly asked to have the animal trapped and relocated, she said nothing was ever done.

She doesn’t know Persico’s plans for the space or building. “A lot of people decide to try it here in Saugerties because rents are low, but there are so many hidden costs” to owning a business, she added. “It seemed like my credit-card merchant services was taking a huge chunk, something like 20 percent, and I did not expect that.”

Local artist, vintage apparel and antiques dealer Rayann Fatizzi, who sold items to Sugartown on consignment, admires Drewes’ can-do spirits. The two have become good friends.

Fatizzi says it’s extremely difficult to keep low prices on merchandise when overhead is high. “Let’s face it,” said Fatizzi. “Vintage clothing is basically a luxury. People are struggling. Most money goes to basic living, gas and food. Little shops are a labor of love … and most of my shop friends are looking for an easier way.”

Fatizzi herself, who for many years had her own village store, Rayann’s Creative Instinct, and later a tea room nearby, currently operates a space-within-a-space at The Saugerties Antiques Center on Main Street. She also sells on the Internet.

Winters are always a time of re-evaluation and consolidation among Saugerties retailers and resellers. “Sales are down for a lot of people, but business owners don’t want to talk about it,” said Drewes. “Everybody could be doing better. It’s very up and down right now, and nobody can say what direction Saugerties is really going.”

Advertisement

Drewes said that she thinks the village businesses can’t depend so much on visitors to spend money but instead must encourage area residents to do more of their shopping and dining locally.

 

An Internet-based Sugartown

Drewes’ new job at the Boys and Girls Club will mean she gets to work substantially fewer hours than the 55-plus per week she’s been routinely putting in owning and operating Sugartown. She’ll no longer be working at Family House in Rosendale, a shelter for runaway and homeless teens, where she’d been working the third shift in order to keep Sugartown afloat.

She’ll continue to have two jobs, but in a much more diminished capacity which won’t be as physically demanding. Drewes is not planning to completely abandon retail. “I’ll still sell vintage items on the Internet,” she said.

Drewes is much relieved to have landed on her feet. She has few regrets. “I don’t look back. Being self-employed is not easy,” she said.

New opportunities, a new perspective. “The kids and teens alike are looking for strong role models and learning opportunities, and I’m honored to have a chance to connect them with as many as possible,” she said. “My brain is buzzing with ideas for new programming.”

There is one comment

Post Your Thoughts