In 1995, when we were on North 4th Street, the GAC community organized an informal, in-house shop dubbed "Ain't It Grand!" It was organized shortly after we developed Transitional Employment and members began to search for Supported or Independent Employment positions. We collected suitable clothing for employment and did not refuse jackets, jeans, dresses, and household appliances for members acquiring apartments, many for the first time. It was open twice a week and the responsibility for running the shop was shared by all the work units. Throughout the years many colleagues had lively interest in running the store and the goods that people purchased were much appreciated.
The idea to create a real re-sale shop open to the public was stimulated by our visits to 2 other Clubhouse--Independence Center in St. Louis and Magnolia House in Cincinnati, both of which had established successful re-sale shops as part of their work-ordered day.
The desire to do this was reinforced by a member's discovery of a book called The Conscious Closet: the Revolutionary Guide to Looking Good While Doing Good by Elizabeth Cline. The book endorsed re-sale shops as a good idea that cut down on waste, reduced consumerism, and that was an efficient and satisfying approach to fashion. We hoped to create a shop that, like the ones in St. Louis and Cincinnati, offered our members valuable retail experience while also raising revenue for our programming.
A team consisting of members, staff, and a devoted volunteer visited the "Clubhouse Shop" to learn from our St. Louis colleagues what we needed to know in order to start our store. We also consulted with the Downtown Business Improvement District #21, the Wisconsin Women's Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC), Kahler Slater Architecture and Interior Design, Retailworks Inc., Access Boutique, Lela Boutique, and Brenda Wesley. Nelson Schmidt, a full-service marketing communications agency, donated hours of consultation time to us to establish our logo, our signage, and our marketing approach.
Grateful for all the encouragement and knowledge of both our Clubhouse colleagues and these generous local businesses, our excitement grew. We opened our shop just before Thanksgiving 2019, anticipating the busy holiday shopping season. Despite the frigid weather, our shop was busy and we anticipated successful sales.
Fast forward to March 18, 2020 when GAC closed, as did most of Milwaukee, in response to pandemic conditions. We were uncertain about the future of our Clubhouse and Water St. Boutique. GAC remained closed for a full 6 weeks, until Monday, June 1, 2020. Although the store opened, the downtown business district remained nearly deserted and we had very few customers.
As pandemic conditions have eased, each week approximately 30 members have acquired important retail experience and much confidence in working on behalf of our store. They have picked up or received donations at GAC, researched, processed, and priced every item in the store and entered the data into our data base, prepared the store, dressed the mannequins, worked as cashiers, cleaned and organized the store daily, updated our inventory as new things come in, created marketing e-mails online, and organized seasonal sales. Members and staff were even models in a fashion show for the Women's Club of Ozaukee County, which expanded our customer base!
Several of our members have moved on to paid employment in the community as a result of their experience working at Water St. Boutique.
The downtown area is now much more populated and sales have been brisk. Throughout this time we have accepted and processed contributions of "upscale" clothing, shoes, handbags, jackets, coats, jewelry and small household items from many people throughout the metropolitan area. Recent contributions of beautiful things by Lela Boutique in the Third Ward and Boz's Clozet in Mequon are much appreciated.
The store raised a small portion of our annual program expenses. It continues to motivate members to get involved in running it. Several members have parlayed their experience into paid employment in the community...we have to admit that many of us are more well dressed than we were before the creation of Water St. Boutique! Please....come on down and see our wares.
Store hours are Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.