For 21 years, Uptown boutique Intoto set the Twin Cities standard for exclusivity–best symbolized by the door that remained locked even during business hours. Intoto catered to a discriminating customer–described by owner Karen Heithoff as someone who had previously done most of her shopping out of town.
Since Heithoff retired from retail and closed Intoto last year, a handful of other independent stores—some new, some veterans—have stepped up their assortment of fashion forward labels. It’s a constant project to identify new lines and be first to grab them.
“You have to know what your overall market is, and within that, stay true to your mission,” says Steve Kang, owner of BlackBlue, a St. Paul men’s store. Now Kang is strategically adding women’s apparel, such as French brand A.P.C. “It fits the aesthetic of the shop perfectly: androgynous, classic styling, with modern cuts. It’s forward, but tangible.”
Longtime designer store Bumbershute at 50th & France has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of Intoto’s closing, picking up former Intoto lines 3.1 Phillip Lim and T by Alexander Wang.
“We don’t want to dumb down like department stores have,” says owner Kathryn Paulsrud. “We’re always going to push it on the edge a little bit.” The key, she adds, is providing the service to help customers understand how to wear the clothes. Her method appears to be working: “We’re getting all sorts of new customers lately,” Paulsrud says.
Grethen House, which has been delivering designer fashion to the Twin Cities even longer than Intoto did, always had an agreement not to go after the same lines. Now that Intoto is gone, Grethen House has added Inhabit, knitwear line Brochu Walker, and Etoile, a division of Isabel Marant.
“I’ve never tried to go with trends,” owner Mary Brindley says. “I like to put a Minnesota spin on edgier stuff. We know the designers, the fabric, the genius behind it. At a small store, that’s the service we can give.”
Since N’etc moved out of Grethen House to a storefront a block up France Avenue, it, too, has focused on up and coming apparel and accessories brands not available elsewhere in town, including Canadian recycled fur outerwear line Harricana and Pas de Calais apparel. Exclusivity, the owners say, is a big selling point.
“We want this experience to be special—something you’re not going to find elsewhere,” says Veronica Clark, who runs N’etc with Nancy Heidman. “Minneapolis is a small town. Nobody wants to show up in the same dress.”
Where To Shop
BlackBlue: 614 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 651-260-5340, blkblu.com
Bumbershute: 5014 Frabce Ave. S., Edina, 952-475-2684
Grethen House: 4930 France Ave. S., Edina, 952-926-8725, grethenhouse.com
N'etc: 5005 France Ave. S., Mpls., 612-922-9321, netcmsp.com