Even as small businesses all over California and the United States struggle to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020, Allison Thompson of Napa has managed not only to do that, but to open a second location.
It hasn’t been easy, and it has required some out-of-the-box thinking, the 36-year-old divorced mother of two said in a recent phone interview about Allison in Wine Country, her women’s clothing and accessories/children’s clothing and toys stores. She carries women’s sizes XS through 12.
“It’s been a challenging time,” she said.
“I anticipated opening the (new) store in the summertime in downtown Napa, with people walking around the streets, but that’s not happening as expected. My loyal customers in St. Helena come in to support me and I’m grateful for that. Hopefully this will end sooner than later for everyone’s sake.”
Thompson said she attended high school in Napa, and moved back six years ago after a four-year stint in the Los Angeles County city of Manhattan Beach, where she opened and operated a similar concern called Allison by the Beach.
Her first local store was in St. Helena, which opened a half dozen years ago. The downtown Napa location opened Aug. 1, right in the middle of the pandemic and lockdown.
“It was in the works before the pandemic,” Thompson said. “I always wanted to expand into Napa and I was waiting for the right spot to open up and the right timing, which this seemed like it was. There’s lots of energy down here, many customers live here. I live here. There are lots of tourists.”
At least there are under normal circumstances.
After a brief closure, the stores were able to reopen with safety precautions in place, she said.
“Everyone wears masks, we limit the number of people inside, there’s hand sanitizer at the door, and we use a UV light to sanitize the clothes any time anything is tried on,” Thompson said. “So far, so good.”
The clothes, accessories and other items found in Allison in Wine Country represent Thompson’s personal taste for which she said she seems to have a flair.
“I do all the buying, and these are my favorite brands and the styles I like,” she said.
“I focus on the locals, and I make sure they’re wearable, everyday wear, and gifty items. I go for clothes with a soft texture, good quality, that look and feel good and stuff that’s going to last – that wash well, and wear well. Classic style pieces mostly.”
The jewelry Thompson said she selects are one-of-a-kinds, some from local designers, all from California.
The children’s items are selected based on her mom experience, are mostly in sizes up to toddler.
“They have to feel good, nothing scratchy,” she said. “Lots of bamboo lines and organic cotton that wash well and feel good.”
And that’s another thing — her children arrived after she opened her store.
“My kids are 3 and 4. So, yeah, I’m very busy with two stores and two kids,” she said. “I had no kids when I first opened my store. So my kid section continues to grow.”
The same brands are found in each store, but the specific inventory differs, she said.
“It’s always been my passion,” Thompson said. “I love clothes and owning my own business. I consider myself a personal stylist. I get to know my clients and I let people know when something comes in that I think they’ll like.”
And that is where the out-of-the-box thinking comes in. When clients couldn’t/can’t come to her, she brought/brings that perfect thing to them to check out. She’s still doing that regularly; another ball in the air.
“I drop stuff off for people to try on, a lot of the time,” Thompson said. “We will be doing that service in Napa also, if someone can’t make it to the store. I do it all the time. I’m always happy to bring things to people especially in these times.”
Her three employees help make that possible, she said.
At least one loyal customer, Lisa Hewitt, says she’s thrilled about the new store.
“I love it. I’m glad she moved to a new store in Napa,” Hewitt said. “She was trying to keep her business afloat, and work with people who couldn’t come into the store. She also increased her social media presence; she’d post new clothing, jewelry and accessories and it was a really clever way to keep your name in front of the public, and also to help out people like me that like having the clothing available even when you can’t go anywhere.”
A Napa resident, Hewitt said she finds the selection at Allison in Wine Country to be perfect for herself and her grown daughter.
“I find the clothes she buys really suits Napa, with styles and designers you can dress up or down,” she said. “I used to go up to St. Helena. I’m happy to have another store in town, not to have to go up to St. Helena.”
The arrangement suits Thompson just fine, too, she said.
“The best part is the relationships I get to create with people. So many customers become my friends,” she said.
“I have a good memory for which customers like what types of things. I do all the buying and that part’s a lot of fun. I try to do it with my clients in mind, and keeping in mind the best-selling items. People say I have something of a magic touch, picking out things people will like. It just comes to me naturally.”
Compared to the Los Angeles area, Napa is a small town and behaves like it, she said.
“I shouldn’t be surprised, but, I’m always shocked with how connected the small community is here,” she said. “But that’s great, because people have spread the word about my business like crazy,” which may be what’s kept her going during this extraordinary time. Thompson said she also hopes to open more “Allison in… and Allison by…” locations in the future.
“Life has been so stressful, I’ve been trying to think outside the box how to keep two stores open,” she said. “It’s a scary time to open a second location. This has to end and come back to normal sometime and I want to be here when it does.”
Watch now: Protect yourself when shopping during COVID-19
You can reach business editor Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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