When theater professional and Catskill native Claire Raper set out to open a store in the village, she had a creative impulse and her two children in mind.
Raper’s brainchild, Kid Around children’s consignment store, features rich yellow walls, dramatic murals and many creative “scenes” throughout. Large built-in air conditioners are cleverly hidden by faux fish tanks. There’s a magical quality about it – a child’s wonderland. It’s clear that the woman behind the scenes has done this before.
Raper has degrees in theater and cultural history from Marlboro College in Vermont. She has worked as a professional director and stage manager in union, off-Broadway and regional theaters. Raper says she’s been in theater since the age of 12. “I always put on shows when I was younger,” she said.
Raper has worked in many theaters across the country, including Alliance Theater in Atlanta and Ma-Yi in New York City.
“I did my final show in 2005 when I was eight months pregnant with Lilly,” says Raper.
Raising children in upstate New York was a change of pace for Raper, who has traveled all over the country and lived in the New York metropolis for many years. Ironically, it was this departure from theater life that led her to inspiration. Raper admits quite simply, “I was bored and I had a lot of stuff.” In truth, she had more than just a lot of stuff. A supportive family and experience raising two grade-school-age children were two of Raper’s strengths when deciding to open a store. And Raper says, “I always shopped at consignment and thrift stores. I hate the idea of waste.” She adds, “Saugerties seemed like a good place [for this kind of store].”
Kid Around officially opened for business at 114 Partition St. in 2009.
Through Kid Around, Raper has been able to offer classes, story time and raffles. Events have been free, paid and drop-in. Raper says she has also been able to do a bit of community outreach through food drives and donations. “We’ve donated to every charity and organization that’s asked,” she says.
Kid Around can also proudly boast that it carries items from the only handmade toy company in the entire Hudson Valley, Owliecat Toys.
Of Kid Around’s other offerings, Raper says, “I didn’t have plastic. If I was going to give it to an adult to give to a child, I wanted to feel good about it. No video games, no small pieces.”
Unfortunately, Raper struggled to carry larger, more popular brands sold through distributors. That made it harder to compete with the big box stores. Last year, those stores extended their Black Friday sales over an entire weekend.
Additionally, Raper says, “Retail was never my passion. [Kid Around] was only a small outlet for my passion for theater.” These days, her mother, Gabby Hewitt, is at the cash register full time. Claire is there sometimes, too, but she also now teaches at the Woodstock Day School’s drama program, where she was previously a volunteer.
When Raper has not been at her store, or managing it somehow remotely, she’s been with her two children, Oliver, 5, and Lilly, 8.
“I was spread really thin,” she said.
Realizing that sales were down, and neither herself nor her mother were deriving a lot of pleasure from running the store day-in and day-out, Raper saw the store needed to close. She sent an email to her customers and consignors in October to announce that Kid Around’s days were numbered. She has asked that her consignors use up their credit by the end of November. However, the shop will remain open through the holiday season, says Raper. The last day will be Jan. 31, 2014.
Raper says owning the store allowed her to meet some incredible local artisans as well as many cute kids. She also says that she’s made new friendships and connections with her community.
Of her vendors, Raper says she hopes they are able to find other outlets. She’s optimistic: “I think there are more opportunities [now] than when I opened [in 2009].”
In the wake of Kid Around, Raper now hopes to meet other theater professionals to do adult troupe work. “Not necessarily community theater,” she says.
You can send inquiries for collaboration with her to ClairemmRaper@gmail.com.