Expansion creates downtown ‘mini-mall’ in SV

Jenn Slifka stands in her new shop, Chic by Chateau, located in the former Sparrow's Closet building just north of her salon, Chateau de Chic. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
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Walked downtown to the mall lately?    

“We call it ‘Spring Valley’s mini mall’ because we have three separate types of retail — professional salon products with bath and body, essential oils and skincare; candles, home décor and gift items; and food and drink,” said Chateau de Chic proprietor Jenn Slifka, peering through the two doorways from the salon in downtown Spring Valley to her new clothing store, Chic by Chateau, and her mother’s and sister’s new catering shop, home of Suzanne Gardner’s and Steph Thouin’s Some Like It Hot Cakes & Catering. The three buildings each have their own outdoor entrances, but they are connected indoors so shoppers can wander from store to store.   

Slifka has plenty of which to be proud, having expanded her business from a home-based salon to a downtown storefront, then adding boutique items.  The salon opened on Broadway Avenue several years ago with more retail space than was needed for hair and skincare products at that time, so she decided to fill a need for women to shop locally by offering clothing and jewelry that salon clients and local shoppers alike found convenient, classy and charming.

“When I opened the boutique seven years ago in the salon, it had grown and grown and grown, and it finally came to the point where it was doing so good that I would buy more, and then it would do even better, so I thought, ‘Why not just let it have its own home?’” said Slifka.

The family had already expanded into the building to the north of the salon several years ago after the Verizon cell phone store closed. The Sparrow’s Closet had served its purpose as the town’s only Broadway clothing outlet, but the family decided to eliminate the secondhand clothing after finding that it was too labor-intensive for Gardner, who dealt with the details of accepting and sorting the consigned clothing and still managed to cater events both local and in Rochester. 

After inquiring about the sale of the Spring Valley Tribune building adjacent to the Sparrow’s Closet building, Slifka determined that this would be the year to move the boutique out of the salon. 

Boutique needed more room

“A year or two ago, I decided to bulk up and purchase more for the boutique, and that was my test to see what would happen.  Sales doubled, which was good,” said Slifka. “Overall, I think Spring Valley needs more retail options.  I think overall, I’m just excited.  I like that we split up the boutique and the salon.  It was fun for clients to shop the boutique in the salon, but then it became a destination.  It was hard for us because we had clients and shoppers in the salon at the same time, and people didn’t want to feel like they were intruding. 

“The boutique has its own identity, and we brought in some new lines in the salon, too.  The other thing that was nice about breaking up the two — we do so many events that we’ve had at least 100 people through, and that’s a lot of people in that space.  We do four to six events a year, and that many more.  People look forward to them.  We have food and drinks that are complimentary, we have drawings and specials.”

Nod to past in renovations

Sparrow’s Closet had to officially close its doors to make way for Chic by Chateau, after which renovations began in the turn-of-the-century harness shop to transform it to a clothing store with remnants of its roots apparent in the rustic finishes showing that the structure once possibly had a skylight, that hooves trotted in one door and out another on the hardwood floor, and that the ceiling wasn’t a fancy tin endeavor like the one in the adjoining former Tribune building which had previously been a jewelry store and Barbara Ann’s Clothing before that. 

Slifka and her family did the renovations themselves. She consulted with former owner Becky Goodsell, who had owned both the Tribune building and the Sparrow’s Closet building before they were part of the Tribune and Phillips Publishing properties and who likely had historical information on what might be underneath the four layers of carpeting and flooring in the Sparrow’s Closet building that had been a jewelry store in decades past.  Slifka employed the services of local tradesmen and vendors to carry out work that they could not do themselves, including Seabright Electric, Grafix on the Go, artist Andrea Hindt and more. 

“It was important to me to keep everything local.  I think local people understand what I’m working toward, they understand that I have a deadline, building relationships,” she said. “We knew that when we were working on this project, it would come together at the end, and those relationships are what makes a business work — we had a month to get this done.” 

Slifka commented that some prizes fell on their heads as they delved into the Sparrow’s Closet-Chic building. The most exciting thing they found was in the ceiling, between the layers.  There was a box with a pocket watch. 

“I can only imagine that when it was a jewelry store, the ceiling had to be put up in the ‘50s, and they put it up there, thinking, ‘Hey, someday, somebody is going to find this in the ceiling.’  It’s a Pocket Ben, and it fell out as the guys were tearing the ceiling out…it dropped out,” she said.  “And they used Folgers’ cans to cover the holes in the floor – they’d nail them over the holes.  I kept them down because I thought they were so cool.” 

Boutique offers variety of styles

Chic by Chateau, complete with chandeliers overhead and a deer mount keeping watch on the latest styles, promises a shopping bag of neat clothes for every grown girl, no matter her age. 

“The lines we have, I tried to hit a wide variety of styles.  I feel like we have younger to older, conservative to flashy…some more dressy, more business attire, casual, t-shirts, a line of Minnesota-wear, and jeans are a new thing to us — we have two brands of jeans.  Most lines are in extra-small to extra-extra-large,” said Slifka.  “A lot of people are excited that our sizing goes up to extra-extra-large in our regular clothing, and our Minnesota shirts go up to 3XL and 4XL.  I’ve tried to also bring a lot of pieces that aren’t size-oriented, like capes and ponchos so that I hit a variety that way, also.

“I eventually want to add shoes in the spring, but first, we’ll see what lines go over well.  We stuck with the lines that we’ve had for a while and know well, that are not in the Rochester area and that you’d have to go to the Twin Cities to find them.  We tried to bring in stuff people aren’t going to find elsewhere, not brands that you’ll find online, not things you’ll find at Target or any of the big box stores.  I try to find pieces that are unique and have better quality.  I think this was the right move to make.”

Catering business

Gardner and Thouin are pleased to have a proper home for their catering business, too.  Gardner, who has been a baker for over 25 years and owned a shop in San Diego, observed that it’s nice to survey the café-style event space that has been created in the front of the new Some Like It Hot building and know that eventually, the back of the former Tribune building will be a professional, commercial kitchen, as she and Thouin have been working out of a licensed kitchen offsite for years, shuttling food to event venues and making trips back to that kitchen while aspiring toward a permanent home.  The newspaper office required just a little paint and the addition of a faux fireplace and a refurbished 100-year-old lunch counter set into the front window, making room for more seating when someone rents the venue for small gatherings. 

“I’ve been in this business for over 25 years. I had a bakery and catering business in San Diego that kept us busy.  I think a lot of local people are more used to our cakes and cupcakes, and a lot of people have had our catering through the years but don’t really know us through that,” said Gardner.  “We do a wide variety of events, with baked goods and ‘gourmet to go’ party platters that take it up a notch.  We do special events, like large weddings or any event big or small, even at home.  We won’t have the drive time once we get a kitchen put in the back, and it will be much simpler and not so much running.  People will be able to book events in here and we’ll cater it for them.  We like that it’s small and cozy.”

Some Like It Hot has offered a collection of teas and coffees while sharing space with Sparrow’s Closet, and it will continue to do so as its own shop that also features the home décor that was a signature of Sparrow’s Closet after the clothing consignment ended.  The focus now is on the catering, gathering and the marketplace. They are trying to get a marketplace feel, said Gardner, because they have foods and gifts that people can come in and pick up.  The store also has a nice variety of home décor items, coffee, gifts and teas and gourmet chocolates.

“I’m looking forward to having everything we need in one place,” said Thouin. “It will open up much more opportunity for our catering services and offsite events, and also, our new small venue rental will mean people can have a lot of fun and unique events…we can offer more intimate, smaller events people can enjoy without having to rent out a huge hall for 200 people.  It’s something exciting.”    

Inspiration downtown

Slifka agreed that there is excitement about operating Spring Valley’s “mini mall,” and that’s partly the privilege of being in business locally, but also that it inspires others to think about how they, too, can own a Broadway Avenue, Spring Valley, retail business. 

“One thing that’s really exciting about opening so far is that three building owners downtown have asked me about this…that maybe, I hope, that more people are thinking, ‘If they can make it work, it can be done.’  Building our downtown to be a place that people want to come, that’s what excites me, to think that maybe this holds the future for our downtown,” she said. “There’s a lot of really good things downtown, and I think people have forgotten to appreciate it.  But hopefully, more people will come out of the woodwork because this can be done, because even though it was hard work, it’s so worth it.”

Chateau de Chic, Chic by Chateau and Some Like It Hot Cakes & Catering are open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed Sundays to give the curling irons, fashion-forward deer trophy and cake ovens a rest.  For more information, find Chateau de Chic at 507-346-2922, online at www.chateaudechic.com or on Facebook.  Chic by Chateau will soon have its own website and Facebook presence, and for Some Like It Hot, call 507-273-9460, log onto www.somelikeithotcc.com, or check out the photographs of beautiful baked goods on the Some Like It Hot Facebook page.