And then the pandemic arrived, ravaging retail indiscriminately. Mill Valley shops pivoted, innovated and sought creative ways to connect with their customers, who were advised by health officials to minimize their in-person shopping.
Meanwhile, Ronnie Unger and Evan Woolf, owners of The Store women's clothing shop at 68 Throckmorton Ave., were looking to grow, out hunting for a second retail space. They found it a few doors down at 84 Throckmorton, formerly home to the EO Exchange retail shop.
Dubbed The Local, the new shop is quite distinct from The Store, offering up a beach-centric product line that seeks to serves both locals and visitors readying a jaunt to Stinson or Muir beaches or those farther afield. Woolf and Unger both grew up here and have an affinity for the beach.
"There is nothing (downtown) like this," Unger says. "We want to it to be cheerful and completely different from The Store Mill Valley but still have our vibe. It will be all all beach, all the time. In the winter, we'll shift to cozy beach. We also wanted it to be cheap and cheerful, completely different from The Store but still have our vibe."
"It's also what we've been hearing for 20-plus years – "I forgot my hat," "I forgot my sunscreen," Unger says, pointing to sunscreen from EO, trucker hats and patches from Fairfax artist Tommy Breeze, beachwear, flip flops, board shorts and 'The Local' branded sweatshirts, hats and key chains, among an array of other products from local artists.
They'd been looking for a second space for years but wanted to stay geographically connected to their current space and community. "It didn't make sense for us to go outside of right here – this is our people," Unger says.
Note that turn of phrase: "this is our people." From its debut in town in a streetfront space at the Throckmorton Theatre to its move to the current Carolina Boutique space as Allie G and then to the Store, Woolf and Unger have long been revered for their deep connections to their customers. They've been on their current block of Throckmorton Ave. for 25 years.
"It's all about relationships," Woolf says.
"That's the essence of who we are in this retail world," Unger adds. "We would not be anywhere without our community. We cried 100 times during Covid out of joy over how grateful we are for the people that support us and always have but really showed up over this past year."
"We have never felt in competition with a big store," she adds. "We curate for our customers. We don't go out and buy randomly. We curate for people. We shop for our community."
Those kinds of relationships were cited in a recent New York Times piece about why certain retail districts in New York have thrived. The Center for an Urban Future, a policy organization, found that, among national retailers in New York City, by far the biggest overall decline was in the number of chain stores. More than 1,000 of them, or approximately one out of seven, had disappeared during the preceding 12 months.
"By contrast, a chicly homey stretch of stores along well-traveled Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn has maintained the vitality of an alternate world," the Times reported. "When you walk into one of these stores, you are likely to find the owner behind the counter. Often she — and it’s usually a woman — is also the person making what she sells: lamps, pillows, pottery, dresses, body oils."
"Woolf says there's plenty more on the way from The Local. "There's no limit to what we can do here," she says.
The Local is at 84 Throckmorton. Open Tues.-Sun., 10am-5pm. MORE INFO.
Want to know what's happening around town? Click here to subscribe to the Enjoy Mill Valley Blog by Email!