Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Since the death of fashion designer Kathleen Sommers, devotees of her Monte Vista boutique have been asking if the store will continue to operate, said store manager Blanquita Cullum Wednesday evening at the annual Poetry for the People party, a store event that was a particular favorite of Sommers.
Sommers, who had been battling cancer, died Oct. 20.
“The store sends a box full of mail once a week, letter after letter from Kathleen’s friends, customers and suppliers," said David Connors, husband of her daughter, Kate Sommers-Dawes. "They’re really thoughtful and heartfelt messages. It’s not normal in retail or in any walk of life.”
The outpouring has made Connors and Sommers-Dawes, who reside in San Francisco and have an infant son, realize the store’s vibe and tribe are irreplaceable and must continue. They are looking for a buyer among the store’s fans – a silent partner to invest $200,000, according to buzz at the poetry party.
Connors said they had received several inquiries within hours of sending an email to the store’s patrons and suppliers announcing the search for a buyer. The transaction would be for the boutique alone and would not include the two-story building at 2417 Main Avenue.
“It would be hard to find someone outside Kathleen’s devotees who would understand how to continue Kathleen’s vision in a retail landscape dominated by the Amazon culture of shopping,” Connors said.
In addition to Sommers’ avid customer base, the email enticed potential buyers of Kathleen Sommers Inc. (KSI) by touting her “talented staff [and] longstanding relationships with suppliers.”
It acknowledges the business is “ripe for transformation with the next generation of customer in mind. For example, Sommers and the team had long considered online sales as an important future component of the business that has yet to be implemented.
The email said the bulk of the financial investment would be designated for business operations.
“The ideal interested party would bring not just capital but a talent for and interest in bringing the next generation of the store to life," the email said. "Our intention is to continue KSI's operations while we examine our options regarding the business.”
Connors said he and his wife, who is the executor of her mother's estate, hope to find a buyer by the end of the year.
White wine-fueled chitchat at the Poetry for the People gathering reflected hope that ideal investors would come forward. Rather than trying on clothing, many customers gave poetry themes to poets Naomi Nye, Texas Poet Laureate Jenny Browne, John Phillip Santos, and Frances Trevino Santos, who improvised poems on handmade paper of the buyer's choice.
Artists Jeanette MacDougall, Southwest School of Art President Paula Owen, and Joan Frederick then swirled paint on the poems for works of art. Proceeds from the sale of the painted poems benefited Family Violence Prevention Services and Academia América.
Cullum leaned on a counter, reflecting Kathleen Sommers' own Zen approach to business, and considered the future.
"None of us really know what will happen with the store," she said. "Whatever happens, it's all going to be okay. If it closes, we know we did a great thing for the city and we're proud of it. And if it continues, it will be a great success."