The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Lou Marzeles

Store reopens with surprise support


Lou Marzeles

the resurrection of aimee’s attic: Aimee Waddell is surrounded by merchandise in her downtown Goldendale store, reopening today with a new business model and store layout inspired by her consignors.

Attics tend to be forgotten places, and Aimee’s almost was.

Just a few short months ago, Aimee Waddell, owner of Aimee’s Attic in downtown Goldendale, was facing the bleak realization that she was going to have to close her store at Columbus and Main. Today—literally, May 1—the store reopens with a remodel, which includes a totally new business model based on a stunning generosity of spirit.

“We were in a position where we were ready to close within a week,” Waddell recalls. “It was so bad.”

That was in January, right after the store experienced a dismal Christmas sales season. “We had about 30 percent of what we usually have at Christmas.” But the trouble had been brewing for some time. Summer of 2012 was when the writing first appeared on the wall. “I thought, well, we’ll get through,” Waddell says of that time. She held out hope for the holidays that was never fulfilled. Pressure was on her, not just for the survival of her store but for the responsibility she felt for her 1,100 consignors whose merchandise was sprawled throughout the store.

Really, the impact was on both her stores, downtown and on Broadway. “They work together,” Waddell points out. “When this one’s doing well, it helps that one out; when that one’s doing well, it helps this one out.”

Came January, and she wasn’t sure she could make payroll. The math was painful to observe.

“We were averaging about $200 a day,” she calculates. “You figure $100 to the consignors at a 50-50 split, and my payroll is $80, and that leaves you $20 a day. So you multiply that every month, and I wasn’t making enough a month to pay overhead. I can’t. I had depleted everything my husband and I have. It just wasn’t working.”

Waddell called a meeting of the consignors—the 1,100 other people she felt had a vested interest in her business—for Jan. 8. She went over the hard facts, explaining how badly the business was upside down on its income to expense ratio. “I had to be real humble and tell them literally I couldn’t pay them,” she remembers. “I didn’t have $20 to give them.” She asked them if they would be willing to take small payments on their accounts for which merchandise had already been sold for the months of January, February, and March. She also asked them not to bring any more merchandise into the store because she could not be certain of the store’s future.

“We got a resounding ‘yes,’” she says. “They said, ‘Whatever we can do.’ Several of them donated whatever they had, not only all the merchandise they have in the store to help the store get back on their feet, but also what we owed them on the books. I would say we had probably $3,000 or $4,000 donated that night in debt that people just donated to the store—and all their product that was still available. And they said, ‘We want this to work, whether we have to have bake sales or whatever we have to do, we want this to work.’ So we asked them for ideas and where they thought we should go from here. And this is what they came up with.”

The “this” Waddell refers to the new business model that is keeping her store alive. And it came from her consignors.

“This was their idea,” she says. “They said, ‘You know, what if we rented out space so you had an amount you could count on every month to pay that overhead and then we do the work? We clean the stuff, we display the stuff, we sell the stuff.”

And beginning today the new Aimee’s Attic is a well-designed array of 34 individual spaces each assigned to a specific consignor. Each consignor pays rent on the space they occupy, with their wares attractively displayed. The new look gives the store an airier, open feeling with easy access to each space. As well, the store still retains its own area in the back where clothing, shoes, and accessories await anticipating shoppers.

But the consignors’ generosity didn’t end with a new plan for space renting.

“The other thing they came up with was—which I would never have asked—they said, ‘Change your percentage.’ They said, ‘Yakima and Portland have been at a 70-30 split for the last two years, and we’re happy to pay that to keep this business here in town.’”

Waddell pauses in awed silence, then quietly adds: “Amazing. Amazing.”

She reflects that in no small sense the store isn’t hers. “My motto’s always been, ‘It’s your store,’ and I felt deep in my soul that they’re the only reason we’re here. They provide the product, they’re the customer, they’re the ones that make this work. For me it would have been easier to close it last summer. I just pay my mortgage and a little bit of electricity, and I walk away, you know. But with their support and their encouragement and some ideas, I thought, you know what, let’s try this, let’s see if it’ll work.

The math looks a lot better now. Each consignor’s “booth” space is coded to track their sales, and percentage of sale sharing and space rental can vary according to the space. “Our percentage that we get from the regular consignment is what we’re going to make up this payroll difference in,” Waddell says.

Waddell has no problem sharing the details of her business’ distress. “I don’t think I’m the only small business that is struggling,” she points out, “and people need to realize that shopping locally is very important, and we’re small businesses, we have families. We don’t have 50 employees. We count on our locals to keep our doors open, and I’ve always felt that I have nothing to hide, just like when I went to that meeting and I had to tell these people that I couldn’t pay them. I have never walked away from my debt, and nor did I intend to at that time. But I said, ‘Please if you see something you want to purchase and we can trade out on what I owe you, go to the other store where there’s inventory that I’ve purchased from regular suppliers; buy what you’d like to buy, and let’s take that off your balance. I was looking for anything that we could do that I wouldn’t have to free up liquid cash.”

Cash was anything but abundant, especially since she had to close the store for a month in order to set up the booths for the restart of the store. The layout was inspired by visits she made to Lincoln City, where she spent a week talking with business owners and looking through their stores for ideas on space, boundaries, fees, rental costs. Her research also took her to The Dalles, Silverton, and conversation with an owner in Chehalis. “This is all new to me,” she says. “I don’t know anything about it, so I tried to get educated really quick as to how to make this work for everybody.”

Lou Marzeles

One of the consignors hand-makes these dish towels and pot holders, which sell at prices well below those for similar items at box stores.

Waddell thinks of the economy of Klickitat County and how important it is for residents here to get good deals on second-hand merchandise. “Second-hand here is very valued,” she says. “We have a lot of customers who walk here because they don’t have cars, they don’t have jobs, they need something that they can get to on foot, and they can’t afford a $30 pair of jeans, but they can afford a $5 pair or a $6 pair of jeans. I feel people are out of jobs right now but they have talents, so they’re going to risk some money to open this booth and use their talents to make a little bit of extra money into their household and get by until they do have a regular job.”

Kindness and creativity had taken hold at Aimee’s Attic. Their results can now be seen.


Reader Comments

pjcoop2013 writes:

Congratulations, Aimee Waddell, on a job well done! Thank you for your part in keeping Goldendale alive, and well, and thriving! Your new store looks great!


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