Downtown Dowagiac’s Shabby Bou-Chic all about second chances

Published 7:15 am Friday, April 4, 2014

Toysa True, owner of downtown’s Shabby Bou-Chic thrift store, adjusts one her hats on display. True has owned the store since October. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

Toysa True, owner of downtown’s Shabby Bou-Chic thrift store, adjusts one her hats on display. True has owned the store since October. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

While customers may find the store’s selection of second-hand clothing, hand-crafted art and old antiques enchanting, the real magic of downtown Dowagiac’s Shabby Bou-Chic is its mission.

Opened three years by Hope’s Door Ministry, the thrift store has provided job training for women enrolled in the ministry’s prison alternative program, helping to teach new skills to help participants escape the grasps of drug addiction and other problems.

Last year, though, members of the ministry decided they no longer wanted to run the business after reorganizing. However, then-employee Toysa True decided to stop in and keep the place open, purchasing the business in October, she said.

Despite the risk of transitioning from employee to owner, True’s investment appears to be paying off.

Last month, the business was selected as the first recipient of the Dowagiac Downtown Development Authority’s reinstated Façade Incentive Program, receiving a check for $1,312 for the organization. True said the funds have already been put to good use to help cover expenses following a decline in revenue in the last few months.

“Winter in downtown Dowagiac is pretty scary for a new businesses owner,” True said. “Without that extra boost, I don’t know if I would have made it through the winter.”

Since acquiring the business, True, a retired nurse, has a made dramatic changes to the store, including completely remodeling the storefront. True said she included her tastes in the new design, with a polka-dot canvas and a bright pink door.

“My store is right in the middle of my block on Front Street,” True said. “When I looked up and down the streets, I saw that my store had a real distressed look, so I had to do something about it.”

Despite the change in aesthetics, True has continued to maintain the business as thrift store where customers can go to get clothing, jewelry, books, toys and even crafts created by local artists for a low price.

“It’s a thrift store, but it has the feel of a boutique, of an upscale store, even though we try keep our prices the lowest in town,” True said.

In addition, True has also maintained the store’s commitment to training people in the Hope’s House program. She currently has around three women working for at the store for about 10 hours every week, she said.

“We’re not here to make money,” True said. “We’re just trying to help out.”

With a variety of different items to choose from, the thrift store draws the attention of many downtown shoppers in the spring, summer and fall, True said. Even the owner herself enjoys the occasional surprise of what people might donate to the store.

“I never know what my merchandise is going to be until it walks through the door,” True said. “The things that are donated to us get a second chance, and the women working here are getting a second chance.”