Get Smart about A lifetime in business

by DGO Web Administrator

A iconic storefront since before anyone can remember, clothing store Stuart’s of Durango has closed its doors for the last time. Let owners Dennis and Anna Johnson tell you about their life and times in business, and what it’s meant to be a part of the fabric (pun intended) of Durango.

Tell us how you came to own Stuart’s.

Anna: Dennis was here when his dad opened the store, and then left for New York City. He was an actor. That’s where he met me, an actress. That would’ve been in 1969. Time went on – walks in the park, going to the zoo – and he said, “Do you wanna be a cowgirl?” He said he’d like to go back to Durango, that his dad had a store. I said, “Do I have to wear cowboy boots?” We moved and bought the store a few years later when his dad was ready to retire. We started the Durango Reparatory Theatre and we – we were very busy. We volunteered for a lot of things, because that’s what you should do. The community needs your talents somewhere.

Stuart’s storefront is a Durango icon …

Anna: Oh, the storefront! Isn’t that wonderful? Nate Stein, who came out from New York, he moved to Rico to start a mercantile there. This building is from the late 1880s and he had traveled, so he was moving his Rico mercantile into Durango and came in and redid the store. He did the front – the Bauhaus tradition, very German – with that wonderful curve and the curved windows and all of the insets. Dennis and his dad built the fitting stations and rear of the store. But the front, that’s Nate. He had wonderful taste – he also liked to gamble. He’d come in on Saturday nights as we closed, and he’d ask to cash a check. He had a poker game he went to on Saturday nights, but he never thought in advance to go to the bank, so we became it. The check was always good, though. [laughs]

You’ve seen some big changes in business, haven’t you?

Anna: Oh yes. We endured 2008. But because we had a history with people, because we were dependable, because they knew they were getting a value for what they were spending, we made it through. More and more, people are not so interested in going to shops. They’re interested in going online. We certainly understand that. But you can’t sustain a store with people coming in, trying things on, and then going online to see if they can find it cheaper. Of course, styles change. Business is adapting – not only to fashion but to clientele. It would be much more difficult to start a new store these days. They have to compete with the Internet. It’s just the way people shop now. It might not always be that way. Maybe one day people will say, “You know, I really want to go into a shop and have someone fit me for a suit. I want to have someone who knows what they’re doing.”

Dennis: We have a history at Stuart’s. We’ve served families’ second and even third generations.

Anna: We’re theater people. We like applause. Our applause are the people who come in again and again who tell us, “You’ve done good by us.”

What will you miss most?

Anna: The day-to-day. You get up in the morning, and there’s the list. And then you’re on the phone talking to a customer or a vendor, and you’re crossing things off of the list and then something goes wrong – and it’s not frustrating, it’s just part of the list. But, we’re at an age where, I think [laughs] we can learn not to miss it too much. We won’t have that structure, so we’ll have to create a different structure.

What did you admire most about each other in business through the years?

Dennis: She has unlimited imagination. So often, some kind of change or shift comes into play, and so, to have someone who can handle that with aplomb is nice.

Anna: There’s a lot of things I admire, but insofar as business, I admire his taste level. It’s unbelievable. There are people who seek him out at trade shows. He understands the quality, the style, the needs, the purpose. It’s an incredible taste level. It taught me a lot. When I see him talking to vendors and people who say, “Dennis, tell me what you think about this.” He’s very honest, very straightforward, and he’s not afraid to tell that, “Well, it’s a piece of … you know.” Or he might say, “Well, this is nice. Look at the stitching here, this detail.” He taught me a lot. At the very beginning when I was buying, I’d call him in and ask him what he thought. Sometimes it’d become a seminar where I’d be watching my watch, but [laughs].

Cyle Talley remembers when Woolworth’s was where Eolus now is. As David Bowie says, “Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!” If there’s something you’d like to Get Smart about, email him at: [email protected]

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