Heidi Owen West

Lifestyles of Saratoga

What are the advantages of being located on Broadway in Saratoga Springs?

First of all, as you know, downtown Saratoga Springs is a destination on its own. We get a lot of people just attracted to the downtown shopping experience. And foot traffic. I don’t know anywhere else in the Capital Region with the amount of foot traffic we get in downtown Saratoga Springs.

Throughout our career — my mother and I — one of her big things was location, location, location. She was really committed to doing whatever it took to get into the best locations in Saratoga Springs. At one point, she bought out a business to move into our space on the corner of Caroline and Broadway, probably 20 years ago.

You have a family history of owning businesses in Saratoga. Tell us about your mom’s gift shop Nostalgia, and what you learned from her as a business owner.

My mom was great at looking at gaps in the market. She didn’t necessarily look at what she liked to do or what she was interested in. A lot of people don’t know that we actually started with a coffee shop and a bakery. We had no experience, but there was a huge gap in the market in the ’80s. There was no such thing as a coffee shop. She put that in place and then sold it. One of her gifts was really looking at what the town needed and making sure she filled that gap.

While I was in college at FIT — I have a fashion background — my mother opened Nostalgia, which was gifts and home furnishings. There was nothing like it in downtown. She ran it for 25 years. In the meantime, she noticed a hole in the market in the fashion industry. There weren’t any boutiques with well-made clothing that she could wear, that women 40 and over could wear. There was nothing in town servicing that client. So she was begging me to come back and open a store. I was traveling the world, doing my thing. Finally, I said, “I’ll come back, and I’ll give you five years.” And it’s been 40 years. [laughs]

It’s a vibrant, thriving downtown. We do have a lot of women’s clothing stores and boutiques, and I think that makes us even more of a destination. If you need to get something, you know you’ll be able to find something in downtown Saratoga Springs.

After my mom passed away, I took over the business around 12 years ago. She got sick with breast cancer, so I took the helm. Six years into that, I opened Caroline and Main. With Lifestyles, I had crafted two separate clients, and we were not able to fit everything that people were looking for in the one space, so I divided them. I had waited for the corner spot at the corner of Caroline and Broadway. I loved that spot, so I let the landlord know. It took me maybe three or four years until the people in there were ready to move on, so he came to me and I scooped it up.

What is your favorite thing about being a self-employed businesswoman? Do you have any advice for women looking to start their own business?

My favorite thing is probably the variety of the day-to-day. You never know what’s going to crop up. You’re putting out a lot of fires. You’re acquiring an amazing skill set. You basically feel like you can do anything, because there’s a lot of bumpy roads, a lot of tough times.

For anyone getting into retail, I say make sure you have the grit to get up every single day, no matter what hits you, and put one foot in front of the next. It’s really about the longevity. At first it’s very exciting. You’re opening a store, you have a lot of people behind you. The tough days are the quiet days. The days when no one shows up to buy anything and you’re there on your own. You get in your head and think, “Did I make a mistake?” Just keep going. And it’s not glamorous. You are working hard.

What trends can we expect for spring?

Green is still huge. We started last year with a grass, peppy green. I’m still seeing a lot of brights, a lot of patterns. Green is going to hit really hard this spring. In dresses, I am starting to see more of a column shape – less flowy. We were in that really flowy, ruffle period, so we’re starting to see a step away from that. Definitely straight and wide-leg jeans. Update your denim, that’s huge. Things are less skinny in the denim world. Don’t be afraid to go for that wide-leg denim, because that’s huge right now.

Every season you have gorgeous, themed window displays. What goes into planning your elaborate displays? Do you have a team that helps?  

Yes, that is a 100% team effort. I have my righthand person, Stacey, whose been with me for close to 20 years, and we also partner with local artists. We like to bring them in to do pieces of it. For big displays, which are during the holidays and this year the Belmont Stakes, we hit that time period hard. For those windows, we start planning six months to a year in advance.

We get it all planned and prepped in our office and then do the install. There are a couple of late, stressful nights because we have to install it pretty quickly — we can’t be down. We look to the cities for inspiration – New York City, Paris. We try to bring some of that big-city energy to downtown Saratoga Springs. The new thing is to go outside, to break out of the box of the store and bring things out onto the building, which we did in spades last year.

This summer, we’re going with a Belmont green theme. Green and white are Belmont colors. Typically, we go into the summer with red and white, which are Saratoga colors. But this year, we’re going with green, white and some type of pop of gold.

Your brand comprises Lifestyles of Saratoga, Caroline and Main and Union Hall Supply Co. How do you curate each store so each remains unique?

Each brand has a separate clientele. It’s really client-driven. If you listen carefully and closely to your customers, they will tell you exactly what they want. That drives the buying, that drives the experience, that drives everything with the different brands. Since they have three different kinds of customers, they end up being three completely different stores.

I’m on the floor probably more than I should be. People talk to me. They come to me. They have no problem saying, “Oh I want this!” “Do you have this?” “Give me this!” “I don’t like that.” I must be approachable, because they like to tell me what they want. That being said, I take that information and then I go to market. I like the push the customers a little bit as far as trends go. I like to constantly be bringing fresh things in for them to see.

The goal with Union Hall was to create a space for men where they felt comfortable, not just to shop, but stopping in to say hi. We have beer tasting, a little lounge in the back with sports or surfing on the TV. Union Hall will be four years old this summer, and I’m getting ready to open another Union Hall location in Stuyvesant Plaza. They have a long-term plan to make it a premier shopping destination in the Capital Region. Their goal is to partner with what they call “local gems,” plus bring in some of their corporate retail partners and have a new outdoor space. They approached me probably two years ago. We’re starting the demo on the space now, so we’re hoping to be open by middle to late summer. I’m excited. I think the transformation over the next five years at Stuyvesant Plaza will be incredible.

What is something that contributes to the atmosphere of your stores that we might not expect?

We do create a whole shopping experience. I’m very concerned about lighting, the scent. I control all the music, which needs to make the customer feels comfortable there for a very long time.

But the biggest thing is something you don’t see. You only feel it. When you walk in, it’s the atmosphere that everyone who works there and everyone on the team is thrilled to see you. We are happy that you are walking in our door. Every person who walks in, whether it’s a first-timer or someone who has been shopping with us since our doors opened — we are thrilled you took the time to be here. And everyone who walks in should feel that. That’s the secret sauce.

What must-see local attractions do you recommend for out-of-town visitors?

I always tell people to go to the springs. Go to all the springs, drink all the water. I feel like even though we’re Saratoga Springs, sometimes people don’t understand that we actually have springs that everyone can actually go and look at. They’re literally bubbling out of the ground. There are these beautiful urns that local artisans have handcrafted in a ceramics studio. It’s free, and kids love it. Go look at the spouters and the springs. It’s part of our heritage and our history, and I think it’s often overlooked. They’re everywhere!

You are very active in your community and often work with local organizations. What is a cause close to your heart, and why?

Yes, I do work with a ton of local organizations. There are a couple that bubble to the top. Gateway House of Peace, because that’s where my mom passed away. They took over her care when she became paralyzed. I served on their board for many years. It’s a hospice house, so that’s near and dear to my heart. And everyone who goes there goes for free, so they rely on fundraising.

The other, I would have to say, are the local organizations like RISE Shelters of Saratoga that help our unhoused and addicted population. I have had members of my family on the streets and addicted to substances, so I completely understand what it’s like being a family struggling with someone who is homeless. So those two are probably top on my list.

What is an important lesson you’ve learned over the years?

Not to take things personally. And again, consistency is key. Just be consistent. I’m not the smartest person in the room, but I’m consistent. I will get knocked down and get back up. Don’t get wallowing in any sort of mire. Get up and fight for it every single day.

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