A Great First Year in Downtown Birmingham for St. Croix
BY BRAD KADRICH
LBN Community Series
Bob and Jan Nelson of Owosso have been shopping at St. Croix for more than a dozen years, and have always been happy with what they’ve found.
So it wasn’t a big surprise to see the Nelsons follow them a year ago, when the men’s clothing store made its move from the Somerset Collection in Troy to the streets of downtown Birmingham.
GENERAL MANAGER, ST. CROIX SHOPS – BIRMINGHAM
“They have good service, and (merchandise) is good quality,” Bob Nelson said. “If they don’t have what you want, they’ll find it. The service is fantastic.”
Apparently, the Nelsons aren’t the only ones who think so. According to general manager Victoria Knight, foot traffic has doubled what it was at the mall, and many customers have followed the store to its new location (268 W. Maple).
The resulting big business solidifies the thinking of making the move a year ago, following 24 successful years at Somerset.
“It was time for a change, and it was time to leave the mall setting,” Knight said. “We’ve heard from many clients that they no longer like shopping in the malls. So we listened.
“We found Birmingham and realized Birmingham was ‘the’ place,” she added. “A year later, we (believe) we made the right decision.”
St. Croix specializes in men’s clothing, largely made in the United States and Italy. All of the store’s knitwear is made in the U.S., handcrafted and made in the company factory in Winona, Minn. Some sport shirts, trousers and socks are made in Italy, while belts and leather coats are made in the U.S.
More than 80 percent of the store is U.S-made. Coats, pants, shirts, belts and other clothing items can be found in abundance.
And they’re being found by both new and repeat shoppers, especially – in a big change from their mall days – by men.
It’s a change that has convinced everyone at St. Croix the move was timed perfectly.
“It’s the best move we’ve ever made,” said Mike Hill, Knight’s assistant, who has worked at St. Croix for 11 years. “We’re more of a destination location. The guys are more comfortable shopping here.”
It was a trend Knight said she’d heard about, even before they left Somerset.
“The wives used to come shopping at Somerset and now we see the husbands shopping in Birmingham,” she pointed out. “Most men have expressed to us … they want a small, intimate boutique shop like ours.”
The other thing the new location has given them for the last year is more creative freedom. Knight said she’s got more room to create in her windows – and within the shop – than she had in Troy.
“We aren’t mandated by the mall,” she said. “We can be as creative as we want with the windows and what we need to do in the store, because no one is telling us what we can and can’t do.”
As the store celebrated with customers new and old, including cupcakes for the occasion, Knight couldn’t have been happier about the move.
“We love Birmingham, we love the community,” she said. “Everything about Birmingham is what they say … small community, everyone works together and it’s just a great place.”
St. Croix 268 West Maple Birmingham, Michigan 248.816.1390
The St. Croix Shop, recently re-situated – and thriving — in downtown Birmingham (in the Art-Deco Wabeek building, designed by Albert Kahn in 1928), is hosting a “Give back to the Birmingham Museum” fundraiser September 28-30.
“I came up with the idea of a fundraiser from my St Croix clients who shared stories of Birmingham back in the day 30 years ago or longer and since our store is part of a historic building I wanted to incorporate the History of What Downtown Birmingham Was to What it is today by creating a fundraiser to Give Back to the Birmingham Museum. Plus I want my clients and the community to know how special Birmingham is and gain an appreciation of local history through the years of the town St. Croix is honored to call Home.”
In addition to introducing its new, fall line, The St. Croix Shop will have a photo display from the museum, and clients will be offered a discount on purchases of regular-priced merchandise in exchange for a donation to the museum.
St. Croix Shop: 248-816-1390 st.croixshop.com Birmingham Museum: 248-530-1928 bhamgov.org/museum
As Victoria Knight, manager of mens’ fine apparel store, the St. Croix Shop, precisely folds (with a layer of crisp tissue) a newly arrived, handcrafted sky-blue men’s cotton luxury polo shirt, she warmly greets a customer who, while on a walk downtown, stops in.
Introducing himself as “Tom,” he shares that the spring wardrobe display of coordinated separates that he saw through the window attracted him.
“This is why I’d so strongly urged that it was time for us to leave the mall setting after 24 years and to become part of the Birmingham community,” states Knight. “We came to Birmingham TO our clients. They run businesses here, they dine here, and they enjoy the community, which we wanted to be part of.”
And Knight has been enthusiastically welcomed into Birmingham’s community.
Richard Astrein, long-time owner of Astrein’s Creative Jewelers and a committee chair member of Birmingham’s Principal Shopping District, was “ecstatic” about the move.
“I thought St. Croix Shop was a great fit for the district,” Astrein said. “Downtown Birmingham is an exciting place. There’s a lot happening here. In a mall, you might have more traffic or even more business but, with costs per square foot, are you going to make more money?”
He adds, “I’ve been a customer of St. Croix Shop for a long time. Their sweaters and shirts wear so well! I particularly like the ‘quarter-zip pullover.’ I recently went through my closet and counted 28 St. Croix sweaters! It will be great having them just down the street.”
Ingrid Tighe, executive director of the Principal Shopping District, had worked with Knight and St. Croix Shop in her previous position at The Somerset Collection and, Knight says, has been a great support.
“The Birmingham Shopping District is thrilled to welcome St. Croix to our downtown,” said Tighe. “This luxury menswear store is a nice complement to the wide selection of retailers we have in Birmingham. We look forward to St. Croix’s continued success in our community.”
Knight and her weekend assistant, Michael Hill, were determined to open the Birmingham store as quickly as they could, after leaving The Somerset Collection this January.
“We packed on a Friday, unpacked on Saturday and, by Wednesday, we opened,” Knight says. “We didn’t mess around!”
Their move was to a 650 square-foot, temporary “pop-up” location four doors down from the 1300 square-foot spot that will be their new home at the end of April.
“The sequence of events was amazing,” shares Knight. “I found my dream spot on Maple Road and, working things out with the property owner – who also happened to own the “pop-up” spot we were able to land in – we will soon be in the perfect, permanent location.”
Meanwhile, with creativity, a great staff, and a passion for St. Croix’s products, Knight has created a space where customers can enjoy a unique, boutique shopping experience.
“These luxury clothing items speak for themselves,” Knight says, “but it is our job to educate shoppers and to provide a ‘Wow!’ experience. Once people realize how these clothes are created – and that most are machine-washable and American-made (sweaters are Italian-made), with details like lay-flat collars and hand stitching, and that they last 40-50 years! – they often become customers for life.”
“One of my greatest pleasures,” adds Knight, “is providing service to generations of families as they continue to shop at St. Croix Shop – or even come in wearing a timelessly styled, handcrafted sweater or shirt that’s been passed down to them.”
In addition to sharing the company’s background and the acumen of its founder, master knitter Bernhard Brenner, Knight and her staff think creatively when there is a logistical problem or issue.
“I’ve been a customer of Victoria’s at St. Croix since 2010,” says Allyn McManama. “Her abilities in sales are matched with her shrewd business sense.”
“For example,” he says, “when major road construction commenced in front of the store location, she took the initiative to…alert all current customers that her store would waive all shipping fees for orders placed with that store in exchange for this inconvenience.”
“She even,” he continues, “provided an alternative route for customers to avoid construction and traffic to the store.”
Victoria smiles as she recalls such challenges.
“That’s part of what makes us so unique,” she says. “Our customers are like family and so are the members of the St. Croix Shop company. Bernie, our founder, works very hard to make the best product, and we all have the passion to share that product – and unparalleled, individual service – here, now, in Birmingham and through our seven other boutiques in the U.S.A.”