Debra Wells-Hopey has always been interested in fashion: consignment and thrift shopping in particular. She’s a regular at many of the city’s consignment shops. But she never thought about being the owner of a store until she met Stacey Thompson of Crimson and Clover, and Sarah Kingston, that store’s now-former manager, at a fundraising event.
“I asked Stacey if she’d be interested in having a business partner and thought downtown Dartmouth would benefit from having a store like this,” Wells-Hopey says. “And it would be so much fun and it would add to the local burgeoning business scene.”
Around that same time, a space became available on Birmingham Street in downtown Halifax. “We thought, well it’s like kids or pets, if we’re having one, we might have two at the same time,” Wells-Hopey says.
Room 152 on Portland Street, named for its street number, and Brilliant Clothing on Birmingham both offer the same concept. Customers can bring in gently used or new brand-name clothing, which the owners will buy outright. Both stores carry the same stock, which is contemporary designer clothing.
“I think people appreciate that it’s upfront,” Wells-Hopey says. “There is no waiting period for the money.” We’re confident in our pricing ability. We know what we are going to charge for a purse, for a winter coat.”
The stores receive up to 60 items each day. The clothing and accessories they buy must be cleaned and free of stains, rips or other damage. Many of them items still have the price tags. All new-to-the-store items hang on a working rack until they are sorted and steamed. At Room 152, a closet closed over with a curtain is filled with bags of clothing waiting to be sorted and hung out for sale. Wells-Hopey says the staff and the customers love checking out the new finds, some of which never make it to the floor for sale from that working rack. “I love never knowing what’s going to come in the door,” she says. “One day we could have a brand-new coat with an $800 price tag on it to a pair of Frye boots that are 20 years old. Both very cool items, both very sellable.”
But Wells-Hopey says there’s something about this form of shopping that customers love: the thrill of the hunt and digging for deals. “We’re definitely on people’s radar now,” Wells-Hopey says. “Stores like this can be so addictive because every day there’s something new coming in. [Shoppers] know if you see something one day, it might be gone the next.
Kate Watson, a longtime fan of consignment and thrift shopping, first heard about Room 152 through social media. She now visits every week. While she doesn’t make a purchase with each visit, she’s made considerable finds when she does. She brought in two dresses one day and rather than take the cash, she traded them for a red leather jacket. “What’s not to like about that?” Watson says.
But it’s not just about the clothes for Watson. “I love the fact that it’s local, that I can go to Portland Street in Dartmouth and buy high-end fashion,” she says. “I love that it’s affordable. I take clothes from my closet and they give you the cash right there.”
She likes the hunt, too, and spending more on classic pieces she will wear for years and then match with cheaper finds she gets at thrift shops. “It’s crazy to want to pay more than you have to for beautiful clothing,” she says.
Less than a few months after opening the doors at the boutiques, Wells-Hopey says the experience has been a “delightful challenge” for the owners.
“We didn’t really have an awkward stage,” she says. ”Basically, we opened the doors and people came. It was something that people were ready for, they were looking for. People love the idea of being able to set their clothes free to the universe and maybe get a trade or store credit.”