A vintage advantage: Bombshell clothing store finds a niche

ASHLAND – It didn't take Sarah Sherman long to see her repurposed clothing store, Bombshell, was just another blip on the screen.
Sherman had no trouble acquiring consignments and personal inventory, but hidden from the beaten tourist path in the Railroad District, the foot traffic was light. The good news for Bombshell (think Marilyn Monroe) was that online sales were predictably increasing.
She took notice of the fact that buyers were drawn to furs, especially older ones. Over time, Sherman came to the realization designer jeans could be had at virtually any second-hand store, flea market or yard sale. In recent months, she repositioned Bombshell, located at 340 A. St., as a vintage clothing outlet and unloaded anything post-1980s.
If Sherman were a mariner, you would call it a minor course correction aimed at catching better financial trade winds. Whether by design or impulse, the shift proved momentous enough to push her two-year-old venture into the black.
"I realized I had a passion for vintage wear that I didn't know I had until I started," Sherman said. "I decided I didn't want to be just another resale store and saw there was a really niche market for high-end vintage clothing."
Although she regularly participates in Ashland's First Friday art walks, pouring free champagne to go with live music, Sherman still considers her shop a gem tucked away from the crowds.
"I'm the biggest vintage store between Portland and San Francisco, and the majority of people in the valley don't know I'm here because of the location."
Her online presence is another matter. She is accessible via her Web page and social media sites. She also attends trade shows in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland.
"You get to meet Hollywood people at the shows," Sherman said. "The movie industry is well represented, collectors, and a whole range of people who love vintage."
The majority of the garments are from the 1940s through 1960s, her favorite era.
"The '20s and '30s are hard to come by," she said. "You go back nearly 100 years and it becomes really hard to find.
The consignment flow is fairly regular, she said.
"When you have a practically brand-new vintage item that's 50 to 70 years old in primo condition, would you rather take it to Goodwill or sell it?" Sherman asked. "A lot of people don't know where to unload mom's wedding dress or a mink coat that cost $2,000 during the Depression. You don't want to give it away when you can actually sell it from $100 to $1,000."
Fur trade — part of the American economic system from the beginning — has been a staple in her business, she said, with more than 100 sales in each of the past two years.
"It was a market I didn't know existed," Sherman said. "There is a collector for everything. There's also a group out there that loves to wear vintage clothing."
She still has a "day job" selling real estate, but as the business gathers momentum, her entrepreneurial efforts are eclipsing her interest in housing trends.
"I should have several employees with what I'm trying to do, but I'm doing it all by myself," she said. "I run the store in the day and am up until midnight putting stuff online."
Even though online sales are where her future lies, much of her inventory isn't on the Web.
"I spend an hour per listing when I put something on eBay," she said. "I spend a lot of time looking over items searching for flaws, because I want to eliminate returns."
The vintage niche requires more time on the road, but that's OK with Sherman.
"The first year was tough, but at this point, online is taking off," she said. "There is definitely a shift in the type of people walking in the door now that it's exclusively vintage. A lot of people treat it like a museum, there are little old ladies who relive the past and spend an hour walking around."
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.

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