Shoppers score vintage items at the grand reopening. // Photo by Ian Ferguson
By Ian Ferguson
Over a decade ago, Pretty Penny Clothing started as a monthly pop-up clothing sale in a one-bedroom apartment in Oakland, California. After years of twists and turns, the small business is re-establishing itself in Bellingham, echoing an ethos of community and care to its new customers.
On its 13th anniversary—its very first in Bellingham—owners of Pretty Penny, Sarah Dunbar and Nick St. Mary, celebrated the grand reopening of their beloved vintage clothing store.
On Saturday, April 13, they hosted a reopening party, inviting the public to join them for food, drinks and music at their new location on 2330 Elm St.. Dunbar said over 100 people were in and out of the store from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.. The store had raffles and giveaways for everyone still left at the end.
Dunbar curates vintage clothing ranging from 1920 to 1970. She said she looks for long lasting, high-quality textiles with a great fit and color. While she does offer some “wild stuff,” Dunbar said most of the store consists of wearable clothing for everyone.
“I want someone who is 12 and on a budget to be able to find something, and someone who is 90 and knows good clothes, that is my age range,” Dunbar said. “It’s awesome.”
Lili McMurtrey, owner of Care Haus Jewelry and Goods, hosted a pop-up table at the event selling her handmade jewelry.
“I think this store is so fun. Everytime I come in here it’s like a treasure hunt,” McMurtrey said.
She said the store fits well with the fashion trends she sees around Bellingham.
“Even walking around Western, you can see all the funky outfits and I think this is the store to get pieces like that,” McMurtrey said.
McMurtrey reached out to Dunbar through social media, and Dunbar invited her to do a “pop-up” in the Pretty Penny store. Dunbar has been hosting this form of small business collaboration in her store since its beginning.
“I used to have a Sunday pop-up before pop-up was even a word that was being used,” Dunbar said.
Collaborating with the community has always been something Dunbar loved to incorporate in her business, and she said it’s one of the reasons she’s been so successful.
“The community aspect of the store is incredibly important to me,” Dunbar said. “I can’t run a business and not do it.”
Patricia Dunbar, Sarah’s mother who has lived in Bellingham since the 1980s, said she was always proud of what Sarah had accomplished in Oakland.
“She had art shows in the store, she had pop-ups, and she just always had a celebration for the people in her area, for artists and musicians,” Patricia said. “She was really involved in the community, and that’s what she wants to bring up here.”
According to Dunbar, Pretty Penny Clothing won the Best of the Bay—an award given to small businesses in the Bay Area—every year it was in business. They were also featured in an article in the Forbes magazine in 2016, she said.
Dunbar said this success has much to do with how she runs the store and treats her customers. When customers walk into the store, she encourages them to take their time, try on as many items as they like and in her words, “just have fun.”
This attitude towards her customers led her to form lifelong connections.
“All the people in Oakland, I still keep in touch with them,” Dunbar said. “I know their names, I know their kids, I know their jobs.”
The process of closing the store in Oakland was an emotional one, she said, both for the family and the customers. They hosted a gathering which filled the store with people saying their goodbyes. Dunbar said people brought food and flowers, and many tears were shed.
“It felt like a memorial,” she said.
Dunbar said the move to Bellingham has had its challenges. Re-opening the store in Bellingham means rebuilding not simply a clothing shop, but also the community it represents. After the opening party on Saturday, Dunbar believes this is possible.
“What’s going to make this work, and I really felt this on Saturday, is people finding a sense of community,” she said.