The story behind the signature shop
As a college student home for the summer, Sarah Bernstein needed a job. She went after the only thing that appealed to her: working for Northwoods Outfitters. Sarah had worked retail in the past, and her background as an artist meant she had a flair for display. Plus, she had grown up on cross country and downhill skis.
It was a perfect fit, but for one thing. The store wasn’t hiring.
She walked in anyway and asked to speak to the manager. She said that of anything she could spend her time doing that summer, working for them was at the top of her list.
“I think if you hire me, you won’t regret it,” she said with simple honesty – a directness that has never left her. She got the job.
It would be the same after she graduated from college, when she would followed her boyfriend, to the White Mountains in Arizona. He had landed a job heading up the special education department in Cibecue, and Sarah was asked if she wanted to teach art at the school. Although there was little to start with and she would have to make up the curriculum as she went along, she happily said yes. Sarah taught in Cibecue for three years, living in a pink house across from the playground. Life revolved around the school and school was always in session.
On the rare weekends she drove to Globe or Show Low, she says she preferred Globe because of its diversity – both in the people she met and the architecture of its buildings. When it came time to move on, Globe was a natural choice. Sarah easily picked up work remodeling old houses. Eventually she worked for Michael Day, who had purchased the old Gila Bank building years earlier and was working on its restoration. The pair would marry before the project was complete.
“I don’t want to say I stripped for my ex-husband, but I worked on door jambs, floors, baseboard trim, the staircase, as well as concrete and acid staining,” Sarah laughs.
Giving life to old buildings became a life’s work for Sarah.
“It’s amazing the rate at which things deteriorate when they are not cared for,” she says.
“It’s never enough to clean something up,” she adds. “You also have to “repair or replace the mechanical, to fix the structural, to be mindful of upgrades without demeaning the original character.”
“The turning point,” she says, “is breathing life into something.”
In 1996, that something was Simply Sarah.
To say Simply Sarah is a clothing boutique is to miss its essence. Sarah says she chose the name because it did not easily fit a definition. The name gave her leeway to express herself through the things she felt merited a place within its walls.
At first, those walls were the Gila Valley Bank & Trust Building on Broad street. In its prime, the bank building was the talk of the town. Copper mining was king in Arizona, and Globe was heralded as the Queen of Copper. Reputed to have been designed by the Chicago firm of Adler and Sullivan, the bank building was exquisite in both form and details and one of Globe’s true architectural treasurers.
After a chapter-change and a remarriage, Sarah moved the store just up the street at 386 Broad, which has provided a fitting setting for Simply Sarah for the last 12 years: light pours in through the street-facing windows, and a high ceiling gives the store an airy feeling.
Cultivating beauty in a multitude of mediums was an early mantra for Sarah. This has remained a signature of the store. From cookware to clothing and a cornucopia of items in between, every item is there by design. It’s there because it represents beauty that comes as a result of good design, quality materials, and careful workmanship. It’s also there because of a fourth element: story.
Sarah believes the merit of any item is not only a function of the beauty apparent in the final product – it’s also in the way an object embodies the story of the people who created it and brought it to market. These stories play an important role in how Sarah makes her final selections when she decides what to represent in her store.
“What’s that saying about how shining the light on someone else also illuminates your own?” she asks.
When you do what you believe in and do what you love, it works out that people can see you are genuine in your intent. And being genuine is a trait Sarah values in the products she represents and in the relationships she builds.
Like the family she discovered during a trade show that has been making French copper cookware for over 150-plus years. Or the young woman who started a cottage industry for women in Pakistan producing hand-embroidered textiles.
Or Sarah’s decades-long relationship with fashion designer April Cornell. Sarah has represented Cornell almost from the beginning and has visited the April Cornell factory in New Delhi.
“How we support each other’s stories and recognize their value has its own rewards,” Sarah says. “When the story itself is authentic and from the heart, it resonates.”
Paintings by Carrie Curly, an emerging self-taught artist from San Carlos, adorn the walls of Simply Sarah. Sarah herself owns several pieces, and is a patron of Carrie’s work.
“I see her talent and I want her to continue to paint and blossom, and be a role model not only for young Apaches, but for everyone. But it’s hard to do that if people don’t support you,” says Sarah .
In conversations with Sarah, the notions of blooming and blossoming often come to mind – perhaps because of her interests in gardening, artistic creation, and the nurturing of life and art. To Sarah’s mind, you must decide to bloom. You don’t wait for the conditions to be right – you make them happen.
In addition to global artists and vendors Sarah finds treasurers through trade shows and her travels. A lot of what the store showcases represents the concept of Fair Trade: the idea that giving space to artisanal products helps out people around the world, when it’s done with care and consideration for the makers. Sarah points to hand-crocheted necklaces from Turkey, silk buttons from Morocco, and an intricately embroidered dress from Pakistan. All were done by hand, and the sale of these items allowed the craftspeople to earn a fair wage while living at home or in their village.
Sarah finds satisfaction in supporting these artisans. She also finds joy in supporting her customers. She and her shop have become a part of life’s many points of celebration.
“I do what makes me happy. If I choose wisely, and it puts a smile on my face, and I see merit in it, I feel others will too.”
Sarah married Ken Bernstein in 2004. She smiles and calls him the brightest jewel in her crown. Bernstein, who stands at 6 feet 5, owns Bird Seismic, which operates across the United States and overseas. Whereas you could say Sarah’s business is made of pearls and silk, her husband’s is defined by seismic cable and massive trucks.
There is never a time when the two are not dealing with business – his or hers – and they do it all together. “In our household there is no such thing as a ‘he’ role or ‘she’ role,” she says.
Sarah has driven trucks and trailers, coordinated field support and met shipments as needed; once having to unload 1200 pounds of seismic cable off the back of a semi without a forklift. She made do with a pryer and true grit. All the while dressed for the shop and over her lunch hour.
This winter, Sarah will be moving her shop to, what many here know as the old APS warehouse at at the south end of Broad Street. Built in the early 1900’s the two story brick warehouse has looked abandoned for years serving mostly as storage for previous owners.
She and Ken purchased the building years ago to house Bird Seismic trucks and equipment.
“We always saw the potential of the property to house both businesses and give us a chance to spend more time together,” Sarah says. “To have a cup of tea, maybe!” The proximity will make receiving shipments for Bird Seismic easier, and simplify tracking the myriad details the couple has to juggle for both businesses.
For its new role as Simply Sarah, the warehouse is getting new windows, entry doors, insulation, and mechanical while retaining its industrial look and feel. Ever mindful of what the building’s history, Sarah is making sure the new space will retain its original character.
The new space will more than double the space Sarah has occupied for over a decade, and the large, fenced parking lot will offer customers easy parking. It will also give Sarah a chance to landscape the grounds.
Both of these features were in short supply at the old shop, and the new possibilities put a smile on her face.
Looking to the future, I ask Sarah if she ever questions the things that brought her to Globe in the first place.
“It’s a ‘coulda, shoulda, might of’ for me,” Sarah says.
“You bloom where you are planted,” she says.
FIVE Tools for Building a Good Life
1 Start with good bones. Find something worthy of investing your time in. Something that you can build on. With old buildings, that means framework. For Simply Sarah, that means being authentic from the start and representing real value.
2 Listen. If you’re renovating an old building, listen to what the building is trying to tell you. Maybe you have an idea, but it doesn’t fit with the building’s story. If you’re in retail sales, listen to your customers. An amazing thing happens when you listen: The story evolves. You learn what to retain and what to re-create. The end result will be something that everyone can feel: authentic in nature, and sincere in expression.
3 Get the foundations right. If it’s a building, get the mechanical up to snuff. The framework has to be solid, and the heating has to work. No amount of paint or pretty is going to compensate for lack of a good foundation. Something true in life and business as well.
4 Respect the process. Don’t make changes just because you can. Be mindful in the decisions you make. Life is a dance, not a race to a destination.
5It’s quality tradesmen who make the difference. After a years of restoring old buildings, Sarah knows a good deal about how to coax old bones into new visions. But when she’s working with contractors, she still defers to their knowledge and expertise. She tells them, “Here is what I see happening – but if I’m missing something, you tell me. I am not here to be right, but to make it right.”