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Price points prove recession-proof

U.S. Census Bureau statistics track the state of retail sales in America: a gentle rise to the year 2007, a decline starting in 2008 and a bottoming out in 2009.

Since then, a slow and steady climb — gradual recovery — measures the state of retail, and the state of mind of shoppers.

Leigh Furlough displays two dresses, each in different price points. The Karlie tunic (left) retails for $98; the Nell halter dress (right), for $210. Furlough is owner of the downtown Washington boutique Bloom. (WDN Photo/Vail Stewart Rumley)

For local retailers, weathering the recession has taken several forms, depending on the stores, but the one issue they unanimously cite as recession-proof is price points: more and lower.

“Basically, what I’ve seen over the last three years is vendors in the showroom offering multiple lines,” said Leigh Furlough, owner of Bloom Women’s Apparel in downtown Washington. “Vendors are pulling in more reasonable lines, and price points that compliment higher-end lines, so you can mix and match.”

Expanding the price range of clothing in the store, mixing in the more recession-friendly items with higher-end designs, provides shopping appeal for the more cost-conscious, according to Furlough.

Farther up Main Street, Frannye Fowle and Emily Mayne have experienced the same at their store, Whimsy. In addition, they have reformatted their business to be a more seasonally driven.

“We’ve reduced our hours somewhat, taking seasonal breaks,” said Mayne. “In retail, there are definite peaks and valleys.”

The decision has allowed them to cut down on operating costs and expenses and derive income by freeing up time to deliver their show and merchandise to others:

“We signed up for a few more retail shows,” said Fowle. “We set up a booth, a storefront, at shows around the country.”

“We’ve found you have to have more than just a storefront here,” added Mayne. “Instead of the Internet, we’ve taken our stuff on the road.”

The shows the two attend are often Junior League-sponsored events and those held as charity events, like Ivy Market — all benefits from the Richmond, Va., show benefit juvenile-cancer research. Selling their wares at the retail shows gives them the opportunity to act as ambassadors for Washington.

“It brings more people to our storefront,” explained Mayne. “It brings them to Washington — they come on the way to their vacation.”

On Market Street, over the past few years, Stewart’s Jewelry Store has gone with a wider set of price points in expanded stock of sterling-silver jewelry, designs incorporating both silver and gold, as well as less-expensive, and often colorful, freshwater pearls. According to Stewart’s manager of six years, Aaron Adams, the store has taken battling the recession one step further — by stocking the store with jewelry made in America, rather than buying from overseas.

“It helps keep the money here,” said Adams. “It gives people jobs. We’re thinking ‘shop local,’ so why shouldn’t (the store) buy stuff made in America?”

Conserving resources, expanding stock, buying American, is how the three stores became adept at riding the recession wave. The result is sales numbers continuing to climb back to 2007 levels as “(Shoppers) are getting out there more. They’re allowing themselves to spend a little bit more,” according to Furlough.