“I know,” added her friend Julianne Phantharangsy, holding up a sparkly green frock. “I should have come here for my prom dress.”
Such comments are the ultimate compliment, said Melinda Torgersen, owner of the Catwalk Boutique in Brentwood, and are what she’s hearing more and more these days.
“It’s the most flattering thing and very sweet,” said Torgersen, who opened her upscale women’s consignment shop on Oak Street in November. “I love it when women say, ‘Excuse me, is this stuff new?’ It tells me I’m doing something right.”
Torgersen, it seems, has been doing plenty right since opening her doors to the public last year. The lifelong consignment connoisseur (“I’ve been shopping like this since I was 14”) and self-confessed shopaholic decided to take the plunge after years of traveling over Highway 4 in search of quality second-hand fashions.
“I just got so tired of not having any decent consignments shops here (in East County),” said the married mother of five. “I’ve always wanted to get into my own business and I wanted to do something people-oriented; something I was passionate about. This seemed to suit all my needs.”
And her shoe, blouse and separates needs as well. Given the state of the economy, it also fit her financial criteria. Armed only with her economic stimulus check and a vision, Torgersen started out with a few carefully chosen items. “I did my research and did my homework before I opened, and truly everything just fell into place so quickly and easily that I knew it was meant to be,” she said. “Money is tight right now, but women still want to look nice and treat themselves, and this is a way they can do both.”
Stocking only top-name, gently-worn (“really, they have to look practically new”) items from such well-known designers as Ann Taylor, Nordstrom and Coldwater Creek, Torgersen found that the more items she stocked, including purses, shoes and some vintage jewelry, the faster it flew off the shelves.
Today, Torgersen takes on approximately two new clients a day and boasts a substantial waiting list for future clients. Items are sold from between 30 and 40 percent off the retail price and clients share in a 40/60-commission split (clients receive the 40 percent). Garments that don’t sell within 90 days are either returned to the owner or donated to charity.
Despite the vast selection, the Catwalk isn’t all about clothes. “We’re here to cater to the ladies,” said Torgersen, who has created a French boutique ambience complete with refreshments and a welcoming plush velvet couch.
“I call it my Dr. Phil couch,” she laughed. “Because sometimes women will just come in and stay for awhile; chat and talk about all kinds of things. It’s a nice place for them to get away and relax for awhile.”
The couch is also a soft place to view a fashion show, and true to its name, there is a real catwalk on the premises. Torgersen has already hosted a few spontaneous fashion shows, and plans to make them a more regular event. Later this year, Torgersen will be involved in a local fashion show at the Streets of Brentwood.
“I have a lot of ideas and plans for the future,” she said. “I’m really having a good time with all this; it’s a lot of fun. I feel very lucky.”
Those interested in a consignment agreement at the Catwalk should call ahead for an appointment –no walk-ins are accepted – and do a quick inventory of their stock as well. For garments to be accepted, they must be an upscale brand name, spot free and nearly new. Items are limited to 20 at a time and all sizes are welcome.
The Catwalk, located at 306 Oak Street, is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. For more information, call 925-240-9890 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.