Say yes to the dress

Photo illustration curtesy of Aris Sherwood

Over the past decade, downtown Rutland has seen a decrease in clothing shops for women that has left people wondering where to turn.

Rutland was once a hot-spot for retail shopping. According to the Rutland Historical Society directories, downtown Rutland was especially booming in terms of retail shopping at the start of the 1980’s. But since then, the people of Rutland, like people across the country, have seen many stores close.

Especially clothing stores.

The lack of clothing stores is a topic of conversation among local women.

“Rutland does not have the quality it used (to have),” said Mary Michael Fusco, a long-time Rutland resident, who typically travels out of town to go shopping at stores like JcPenny or Kohl’s. “Rutland used to have a good mall where you could find anything and everything under one roof. It’s a shame that we need to go out of town for good quality clothes.”

JCPenny used to be in Rutland’s Diamond Run Mall but was among the many clothing stores that closed in the mall. Fusco says she remembers stores such as Montgomery Ward, Artful Dodger, American Eagle, Gap, and many more.

Angela Brande, who runs the costume department at Castleton University, prefers to shop online because it saves time and gives her more options. Brande thinks that the increase in online shopping has led to the decline of retail shops in Rutland and retail shops in general in big and small cities.

“What I do think about a lot is how a small shop or designer can compete with all that ‘comfort of home’  and anonymity.” said Brande. “I still want to see storefronts and would love stores that are distinctive, but I bet that is a really expensive and risky business. And as much as we all appreciate a TJ Maxx now and then, shopping there does little for our sense of community or our sense of individuality.”

TJ Maxx is one of few retail shops in Rutland for clothes. As one of the largest retailers in the country, it sells designer and name-brand items for a discounted price. The one in Rutland gets new stock every day.

Eileen Rounds, a sophomore at Castleton University, says that she shops at TJ Maxx because she feels it’s all that is available.

“It’s cheap and it’s there, it’s definitely not the best quality but whatever,” she said.

But overall, the general consensus is that most people prefer to shop online.

Mary Cohen, Executive Director at the Rutland Chamber of Commerce, said that in her more than 30 years in Rutland, she has seen the number of retail shops decline.

She added that with the increase in online shopping, she would like to see more experiential shopping. The Vermont Truffle Company, which holds residence downtown, is a great example because you can see the chocolate being made.

One retail shop that doesn’t want to go online is Fruition Fineries. The women’s boutique on Merchants Row opened in 2011. Rebecca Buonadonna said she started it on a whim after moving back from Boston.

Photo illustration curtesy of Aris Sherwood

I wanted to create a place for the women of the area to be able to come and find things that they might not have readily available in this area, something a little more fashion forward,” Buonadonna said.

When selecting what she wants to sell, she goes to Manhattan and attends fashion shows, and uses her intuition to forecast what people will want, while also selecting good quality items two seasons in advance. She has noticed a decline in brick and mortar retail, especially with the boom of online shopping.

“But I don’t want to go there,” said Buonadonna. “I don’t sell anything online. I want to be a hands-on, a customer-service-based boutique that caters directly to the client. It’s more fun that way.”

She said Fuition differs from some other clothing stores in Rutland because they strive to make everyone feel welcome and happy in the store.

Still, she notes that retail in Rutland can be tricky.

“You have to know who your clients are, and be able to cater to them, and adjust to the forecast of what’s happening, and create an experiential shopping, going against online.”

Buonadonna has high hopes for the future of retail business in Rutland.

“We’re growing again. Good things are happening, and I’m always, always positive for the rise we have. People are surviving, people are thriving, business is doing well. You just have to be able to stay strong and adapt to what customers are looking for, but do it in a way that stays true to your vision.”

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