In a world of box stores and discount houses, where merchandise is stocked in every color, size and quantity to satisfy the masses and the accountants, Simply Sarah’s, is a retail store which stands out like a hand written note in a sea of e-mail correspondence. It’s personal. And it always seems to have something unique to say about the person or the occasion. Talking to the owner, Sarah Bernstein, about her new store which recently opened in November in downtown Globe, she smiles and says,
“There is a slogan printed on Safeway bags which reads: The ingredients for life. I think that is what I try to provide,” she explains. “I don’t really think of myself as a clothing store, or a toiletries store, or a children’s store, or a gift store… to me it’s always been more of a lifestyle store.”
And the lifestyle which Sarah represents mimics her own as artist, mother, wife and entrepreneur. She is equally comfortable in work boots clearing trees off her property, as she is hosting a dinner party at her house. It is a place where fine silver and fresh flowers mix with a cacophony of dogs, children and guests. Spend time with Sarah and you’ll understand that her belief in the “finer things” is about comfort and quality as much as it is about design and detail.
Take for instance her line of active wear which has a wonderful hand texture. The simple t-shirts belie their ability to fit almost any body and look good doing it. The details come in the little gathering at the bust which gives an otherwise ordinary T-Shirt design unusual fit, and the company philosophy is found on the tags:
“Every day is an adventure… we work when we need to, play when we can, and wear what makes us feel good. Our goal is the creation of inspired outdoor clothing for those who embrace adventure every day.”
-Horny Toad Clothing
It is this embrace of life as an adventure – a treasure hunt- if you will, that lends such a globe-trotting presence to Sarah’s store. Her products range from cut, hand-painted leather jackets from West Texas, to fine china from St. Petersburg – that would be Russia…not Florida. From specialty jams and personal cook books to hand painted silk shirts from Thailand, her merchandise ranges from comfort-food to exotics. Sarah walks through her store and picks up an intricately embroidered jacket. Made of fine wool and embroidered in silk, Sarah goes on to explain, “These jackets take up to five months to complete. This is all hand work, she says “I brought in three of these when I first opened…and they quickly sold out. I was recently able to get just three more, but once these are gone, there are no more.”
“I never stop shopping,” she says. “My attitude is; if I find something great, I can’t go there again. Part of something being unique is the fact that you’re not going to see yourself coming and going. She does not believe in stocking deep. She may bring in a small, two mediums and a large, but when those are gone, she doesn’t re-order. She has already moved on to the next thing. It is one of the things that keep her store fresh and the inventory constantly changing.
And, as she says, “There are so many great things out there, why repeat something when you can discover something.”
Pointing out a smartly cut, hand-dyed bolero jacket, Sarah explains that she chose the cut of the jacket, from the manufacturer and then discussed the specific embellishments she envisioned for the front and back of the jacket. The result is stunning. “This is a jacket you will have from now, until you’re pushing up daisies, wherever you wear it…you’ll get noticed.”
Billed as a “spoils store for women”, some customers may find it unusual to find an imposing male figure behind the counter on any given day of the week. John Michael Benson looks more like he should be in corporate management or mining (which he was, but is now retired) than ladies-wear. But the match between Sarah and John Michael, as he is known, is a fine blend. He came to work for her ten years ago when she needed help with an earlier store, and he had just retired from a long career with the mines. Benson came back out of his second retirement to work for Sarah again in this store, when it opened in November of ‘07.
Turns out, John Michael is quite good at his “second career.” He shares Sarah’s appreciation of quality, design and focus on service. And both of them are partial to hand-written notes when sharing a personal thought with a friend or customer, than the ubiquitous e-mail.
It is a signature act associated with both John Michael and Sarah. Neither of them “does” hi-tech when they conduct business. They are old fashioned that way. “Many manufacturers want me to simply fax an order,” says Sarah. “And you know what? Maybe I will. Maybe I won’t… I don’t like to do business that way…I want to have a conversation…Just as my customers and I discuss what they are looking for. What they need. I expect my suppliers to treat me the same.”
It all boils down to relationships. The ones formed through personal conversations – not faxes and emails, which create a rhythm. An understanding. It is that “mutual understanding” which keeps Sarah’s inventory ahead of the curve. As a small specialty shop, she has no buy-back agreements (like the big stores). “When I bring something into my store, I’ve bought it. There is no such thing as sending it back,” she says. She selects carefully, using her own sense of direction and a practiced ability to glean from her customers what they want, need, wish for and never knew they desired until….now.
Writer, photographer. Passionate foodie, lover of good books and storytelling. Lives in Globe. Plays in the historic district. Travels when possible.