Red Raven opening in former Woolworth’sPublished 10:40pm Wednesday, May 19, 2010
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
They’re usually black birds, but Dowagiac is getting a Red Raven, “where home and fashion come together.”
Today a 68-foot awning featuring four-feet ravens will be installed across the front of 201-203 S. Front St.
“I would like to open the doors on Saturday, but if not Saturday, Monday,” owner Cheryl Sherman said Wednesday afternoon.
Her grand opening will coincide with Memorial Day.
Flexible hours for the energetic morning person will normally be 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and probably Thursday evenings.
“I don’t leave until everyone’s done shopping,” she said. “I was driven crazy more times standing in my store watching people complain they don’t have enough business,” then shooing them out when a clock strikes a particular time.
Red is Sherman’s favorite color, though you couldn’t tell it by the slate-gray walls she painted inside the 5,000-square-foot retail anchor that has been a theater, Woolworth’s and, most recently, Suite Dreams.
Sherman’s favorite TV show, “Cheers,” offers another clue to her personality.
Though from upstate New York by way of 3 1/2 years in Alabama, where her husband worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority, she prefers small towns the size of St. Joseph and Dowagiac where, as the theme song goes, “Everyone knows your name.”
“I don’t like big crowds,” she said, let alone the Alabama mall with boat rides. “Who has that kind of time?”
Cheryl’s first foray into retail was a children’s clothing store in New York when her two oldest were very young.
“I did very well for a number of years, but I heard, ‘You’re never going to make it here.’ People don’t like change.”
Dowagiac is already well-acquainted with the oldest of Cheryl’s and Chuck’s four children.
Jessica opened Ikonik Clothing on the west side of Front Street Feb. 6 during the ice festival. “She’s got a good following with the college.”
The town will soon become acquainted with the rest of the family, as each member will have a boutique reflecting their interests – even Jessica (photography) and Chuck (who collects comic books and toys).
Jeremy, 20, may or may not oversee the pet boutique.
Gabrielle, 15, is a dancer who will have a section serving the Miss Kathy crowd.
Max, 13, is an avid skateboarder, reflected in his offering of boards, helmets and pads within the store.
“We were near Syracuse. The last winter we were there we had three feet of snow on the ground,” Sherman said.
Though she has been working on the interior for six weeks, Sherman’s purchase of the building from sisters Beth Conway and Kathy Newland closed a week ago today.
It was built for their grandfather.
They began looking after the property 30 years ago when their father passed away.
Where Woolworth’s had an elevated office overlooking the merchandise floor, Sherman removed a seven-foot wall to open up a lounge area and create a “display deck.”
“You forget how big this building is until you have a roller in your hand,” painting walls or the ceiling, which seemed to grow.
With all that gray paint she went for an effect of “old cement walls, like a warehouse,” which involved a base coat, then “seven different shades glazed over it. I typically do bold colors, but everything looks good up against it.”
She likes to recycle old furniture by painting scenes on pieces.
Cheryl plans to offer a mix of many different merchandise lines, from men’s and women’s apparel and bedding to extreme sports gear, dance wear and beach and swim wear; jewelry and handbags; antiques and painted furniture; home décor and gifts; packaged gourmet foods and salsas; specialty and cook books; bath towels (displayed in an old-fashioned tub), bath robes and bath salts; and gourmet dog treats and other pet accessories.
The Shermans, who live in the township outside of St. Joseph, moved to Michigan in the summer of 2008 from Huntsville, when Chuck took a job at Palisades nuclear plant managing the radiation protection department.
In Alabama, she had a similarly-sized store full of antiques.
In St. Joseph her antiques became “crammed” into 1,500 square feet called Wild Goose Chase.
She doesn’t want to bad mouth St. Joseph, but felt frustrated by the lack of local support.
“You have a great business for six months of the year. Local people don’t come downtown in the summer because they’re mad about the parking because Chicago people are there.
“Then in the winter, they don’t know what you are. More times than not, people say, ‘There was a fabric store down here about six years ago. Where’d that go?’ Gosh, if you haven’t been in six years, do you think it’s still here?
“St. Joe is headed that way (downtown Dowagiac during the 1980s) because nobody will put any money back into their buildings.”
In Dowagiac, “Everyone is so friendly. This is what St. Joe people think they are – inviting. They’ll say ‘Venetian (Festival) was really good when no one else came.’ Those ‘rowdy’ people gave us our best weekend.”
She also ran into opposition for wanting to close State Street the first Thursday each month for block parties.
While she could also be describing Dowagiac’s central business district, Sherman said, “This is kind of a hub for a lot of different areas, the center where people meet.
“It’s a nice little ride from St. Joseph, with great places to eat and other things to do. We’re not going to pick up and move with kids still in high school,” like Jessica, who lives downtown.
“It’s hard to be a seasonal business carrying clothing, and I switched to clothing (and the name Alternate Route) because I realized when I lived in St. Joe it was a beach town where you couldn’t buy a swimsuit, which didn’t make sense to me. My customers are not going to Super Walmart. That’s not my competition.
“I will say that in six weeks, I’ve seen more people from St. Joe walking up and down these streets than I saw when I was there,” Sherman said. “I’ve only been in Michigan two years, but the first time I drove down Commercial Street this building called to me. I met Vickie (Phillipson, Downtown Development Authority and Chamber of Commerce program director) in my store. She said, ‘You need to come to our town.’ I said, ‘I’ve been in your town and there is a gorgeous building I love there.’ That’s how all this started.
“Vickie does a good job. People do not always appreciate what they have in Vickie. Let me set you down in another town that has no idea what retail is and just wants to do tourism. She really promotes this town.”