ENID, Okla. — Though it’s changed locations three times over the last decade or so, you can always hear music when you walk into the Felt Bird in downtown Enid.
For 11 years, Riley and Stela Jantzen have owned their self-described “hipster boutique” and gift shop, now located at 222 W. Randolph. The couple sells clothing, jewelry, cards, books, candles and a hodgepodge of household decor, some of which with sayings that can’t be printed in this newspaper. Riley also runs his freelance marketing and design business and operates a screen printer in the back half of the building.
“With boutiques, it’s probably the most fun industry, because our job is to make people happy, for the most part,” Riley said before closing Saturday afternoon, while organizing newly tagged necklaces Stela had ordered on the counter.
Both Enid area natives felt there once wasn’t a reason to come downtown, but after leaving for school came to see the area’s potential: as an atmosphere of “cool boutiques and great restaurants,” like other cities’ downtowns they’d seen outside of Enid.
“I think there were probably three boutiques down here at the time we opened up, and now there’s at least a couple per block,” Riley said, adding that it’s a national trend for boutiques to open downtown. “It’s a good fit for each other.”
Azalea Park Boutique opened in March at 124 N. Independence next door to Lux Boutique, while another boutique, Boho Teepee, is several doors down the street. Rustic Touch sits farther south on the corner, but is currently closed until further notice due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
Several others are sprinkled throughout the area, including Okie Babe, B Hip Kids, She, the Turquoise Boutique and Sunny Souls Boutique, the latter of which opened over a week ago.
A bounty of boutiques selling wholesale-purchased retail apparel — mainly for women and children — have cropped up throughout downtown within the last several years, becoming a mini-market in Enid’s most prominent business neighborhood.
Music tends to play over speakers at many of these upscale, tidily decorated shops, just as something along the lines of “reasonable prices” tends to come up when talking to many of their owners.
Azalea Park owner Kaycee Adams and her sister, Elyse McCart, wanted to offer products that Adams said her neighboring stores didn’t already have, at a more affordable price.
“Yes, there are a ton of boutiques, but it wasn’t necessarily my style,” Adams said about why she decided to open her store. “There was really nowhere for young people (to shop) if you want to go to the bar like in Oklahoma City.”
The sisters opened the store the same month the COVID-19 pandemic forced all businesses to close. The two sold their products online, “like everybody else,” until May.
She and other boutiques downtown have said their online presence helped them stay in business and welcome new clientele during the pandemic.
“It really does depend on what generation you’re from,” Turquoise Boutique employee Hannah Barton said. “We get a lot of in-store business, but during COVID, it’s when our online sales went up. We still get a lot of people in here, but we still see a few buy online.”
Harlie Patocka bought her women’s clothing boutique from its previous owner in May — being signed over the inventory, name and website — and opened it as Okie Babe in time for July First Friday, shortly after all Enid businesses began reopening post-shutdown.
“We pretty much do our own thing,” she said about all of downtown’s boutiques. “When I see other boutiques’ posts, I just feel like there’s a large variety of different types of clothing and brands.”
For the first time over the summer, Patocka went to Dallas for market, where retail owners of stores like boutiques go throughout the year to buy products at wholesale from vendors. Dallas Market Center is one of several nationwide market sites.
Boutique owners then resell those products hoping to make a profit, along with ones from local or online vendors, but often expect to face competition from larger, chain department stores (not to mention as well as online markets).
“When you think ‘boutique,’ you think pricey stuff, but I want to offer reasonably priced clothing for people,” Patocka said. “There’s nowhere to shop in this town … because it’s difficult now that there’s no JCPenney, there’s no Dillard’s.”
JCPenney is set to close after over 100 years in business Sunday, the last “anchor store” at Oakwood Mall to do so, following Dillard’s last year and Sears in 2015.
A family affair
On Sunny Souls Boutique’s opening day at 102 W. Randolph, mother and daughter Nanci Moore and Savannah Sommers were without WiFi access after finding the internet wire cut in the basement. They had to handle all purchases with cash until the wire was finally repaired last Friday.
The day was still a success though, Moore said.
The store also then had to be closed until Wednesday after Sommers, 40 weeks pregnant with her third child, was out with labor contractions for several days, while her mom works full-time at UniFirst.
Sommers was sitting in a salon chair next to the cashier counter all day Wednesday, while her mother said the two planned to also open a salon in the back half of the store. Sommers said she has about 1,000 hours left in cosmetology school before she gets her license, but still plans to open the salon before then with licensed professionals.
Sommers also owns several shirt printers, kept in the back of the store, to print on color-blocked shirts on a rack near the door.
The mother-daughter duo also said theirs is the only store downtown to sell more spiritual, New Age products such as burning sage, crystals and aromatic bath salts and incense — to offer something “unique and affordable” shoppers can’t find elsewhere downtown or only online.
Moore said she decided to go into business with her daughter, who was already more into crystals and the like, after visiting her own mother in Florida. She said she “got into” crystals then, shortly before her mother died of cancer in June.
“We’re trying to have a little family thing — keep my mother’s legacy going and so I can retire when I’m 65,” Moore said.
‘A sense of place’
Before moving to the mall in 1984, JCPenney originally was located downtown, along with the other longtime department stores that either also relocated or closed for good at the time.
This mass exodus left the downtown area withering, said former Main Street Enid executive director Lindy Chambers, who started volunteering for the organization when it began in 1994 and became its third director seven years later.
“One of the catalysts for Main Street starting was wanting to preserve downtown,” she said. “We knew there could be something to use downtown.”
Main Street Enid, founded in 1994, has been instrumental in the economic revitalization of the downtown area, which now has the highest concentration of locally owned businesses in Northwest Oklahoma.
Jake Krumwiede, who moved to Enid in 2019 to take the position as director of the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center, currently chairs Main Street’s economic vitality committee.
“There’s so much history there (downtown), which I’ve always appreciated as a guy who likes history,” Krumwiede said.
“I have always seen it … so often they’re small business owners that are essentially risking a lot … into this business. That’s what I automatically felt when I moved out here — how similar everyone was to their pioneering ancestors.”
An online survey Krumwiede’s committee created to run through the end of the month asks for public input on what suggested types of businesses they’d like to see in downtown Enid, including retail, restaurants and entertainment. Respondents can answer if they’re interested in starting or relocating a business to downtown Enid, as well.
Krumwiede himself expressed an interest in a men’s clothing store opening downtown — a market that doesn’t have a large presence in Enid, especially with the loss of the major department stores at the mall.
“We’re representatives of the community, and we want to give the community a voice in helping us, what do they want to see and what do they want to have in that downtown area that really helps cultivate that sense of place,” Krumwiede said.
Sean Risinger and McKenzie Halcomb both rushed in to the Felt Bird at closing time Saturday afternoon.
Though they shortly left without buying anything, the two Oklahoma City residents said they loved going to stores like the Felt Bird because it reminds them of smaller, comfortable shops in the city — a welcome change of pace from going into big-box stores that sometimes have less interesting clothes to look at, Risinger said.
“I love a good quirky Thunder shirt as opposed to an Adidas one,” he said.
“Yeah, it’s cool to get something not everybody has,” Halcomb added.