Shanna Graham thought she'd have to wait until after she retired to open her dream clothing store business.
And yet, here she sits in One-Eleven Boutique, the beautiful store she opened in 2013, surrounded by the custom-made hats and fascinators, watching customers, her customers, browse through racks of chic dresses and coats that she hand-selected. It's all a little surreal, she says.
"It happened quickly," says Graham, 27.
She's not kidding.
Graham, who is also employed as a supervisor at SEFCU, started a jewelry line when she was only 25. This expanded into selling hats and dresses at her church, and then, last year, a storefront of her very own. "One thing happened, and another thing happened, and then, boom, here I was with the store," she says.
Graham is one of several new retailers to join Central Avenue this year, leading a new generation of entrepreneurs and spurring a sort of retail renaissance on the Avenue.
To help raise awareness about this return to retail, several of these merchants banded together for a pop-up retail event at the annual Albany Holiday Market, held December 3 at the Heritage Visitors Center.
The One-Eleven boutique is located in a former bowling association office, which Graham remodeled. Graham wanted--and achieved--an intimate feel in the store, where low lighting and comfortable poufy chairs give the room the feeling of an elegant living room or a to-die-for walk-in closet. Inside, floor-to-ceiling racks fill one wall with elegant fur and leather-trimmed coats, suits and classic shifts, sheaths, and A-line dresses. Graham also maintains a large inventory of hats and fascinators, many custom-made by the same milliner who creates hats for Saratoga socialites. Hats, handbags, and jewelry are displayed on tables and counters spread throughout the store, so that each corner you turn, offers a surprise.
"I didn't want it to be too departmentalized, too broken up. I wanted people to feel comfortable. To me, it's more personal than just selling an item. Every piece is something special," says Graham.
Graham is very selective about the merchandise she brings into the store. She focuses on classic, high-quality pieces that are versatile. She gravitates toward women's styles that are more modest; she favors beautiful, elegant pieces that can be worn to dinner, work, or church (think Michelle Obama and Jackie O), and tends to focus on timeless versus trendy. Since Graham uses a distributor who also supplies Macy's, Nordstrom, and Neiman Marcus, customers can find items here that they might find in bigger department stores, but for a fraction of the price. She points to a luxe white wool coat with black-leather trim; this coat is $300 at Macy's, she says, but retails for $179 here.
"I don't want anyone to feel like they can't afford to look nice," she says. Items in the store range in price, and Graham also runs a special order business through Lily & Taylor, so that her customers can get suits tailored to fit. "These are high-quality items that will last forever," she says.
Graham has help from her mother running the store, and many days her 4-year-old daughter Salia can be found behind the counter, drawing pictures. This is how Graham wants it. She wants her customers to see her achievements, but at the same time to feel like she's someone they can relate to. "I hear a lot of complaining from people my age about there not being enough to do, not enough here for them, and so when I established my business, it was important to me to be here in the community, part of a positive change," says Graham.
"This is more than just a boutique. I really am trying to make a difference in our community."
One-Eleven Boutique is located at 253 Central Avenue in Albany. The store is open 10am-6pm Tuesday-Wednesday, 10am-7pm Thursday-Friday and 10am-4pm Saturday. For more information, please call (518) 727-4564.