Arts & Events » Arts and Culture

Consignment Life

A Midlothian shop, Montage, keeps rolling during pandemic.

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Jessica Deane had been in school for almost five years straight pursuing two degrees, so even the thought of jumping right into law school for another three years exhausted her. At 22 years old, buried in books every night and never going out, she couldn’t find a reason to put on makeup or shave her legs.

What she needed, she decided, was a change in goals.

Taking a part-time job at a consignment store in the West End, Deane had an idea. Instead of just four white walls and hundreds of pre-owned items hanging on metal racks, what if she took the concept of consignment and put it into a more “boutiquey” type of atmosphere?

“I had been on left brain overload and itching to do something more right-brain-oriented,” she recalls. That shift resulted in an explosion of colors, energy and textures that make up the atmosphere of her Midlothian boutique, Montage.

The only problem was that when she opened in 2010, the concept of shopping for pre-owned clothing didn’t sit comfortably with as many customers as it does today. To address that, she included new and locally made items so she could still attract customers averse to pre-owned goods. “I always say there’s a big difference between pre-owned and used items,” she says. “There are many things in our store with the original tags still on them, at least 20% of my store.” To add to the new inventory, Deane also orders wholesale items like top trends of the season and basic layering pieces such as tanks and leggings.

Her commitment to supporting local artists and offering them an outlet made her determined to carry a section of locally made merchandise, including clothing, paintings, handmade candles and jewelry. But Deane’s biggest satisfaction comes from knowing that every transaction that happens at Montage directly and indirectly benefits the local community.

“Every time an item is sold, someone who lives in our community gets paid a percentage,” she says.

Like most business owners, concerns came from every direction when the pandemic hit. After closing for the first two weeks in April, she reopened for private shopping appointments until normal business hours resumed June 1. With money due but no money coming in – the business didn't qualify for any PPP money because of the nature of the payroll - the end of Montage seemed imminent, coincidentally just before the store’s 10th anniversary. Devastated, she began putting price tags on all the furniture and decor and telling customers she planned to close for good in September. But with a second baby due in October, rather than wallow in sadness, she resolved to put up a fight.

“My lease was expiring in October and instead of waiting until then to tell them I wouldn’t be re-signing, I asked for the moon and all the stars and said if they couldn’t give it to me, I was out,” she says, explaining that she requested three months of rent forgiveness. “Never in a million years did I think they would agree, but they did and I signed another five-year lease. I guess if anything good came out of COVID-19 it laid the groundwork for a great time to negotiate a commercial lease.”

The new lease also meant that the 10th anniversary celebration was back on.

It’s planned as a weekend-long event Sept. 12 – 13 from noon to midnight Saturday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to give customers extra hours to browse without a crowd to create a safe, socially distanced shopping atmosphere. Like the boutique’s annual midnight madness sale, the event features clearance items from all seasons.

Because Deane places no restrictions on what people can donate, she says the store has received some pretty cool stuff. “You never know what someone is going to bring in a vintage Bruce Springsteen ’84-’85 World Tour concert T or brand new still in-the-box Jimmy Choo espadrilles,” she says.

As for what she’s learned in 10 years in business, Deane says the most important lesson is that getting up every morning to go to a job that you absolutely love is worth more than the amount of any paycheck.

“Don’t get me wrong, if I went to law school I’d probably be living in a house with more than one bathroom, but I can't complain,” she insists. “I make enough to do what I want, I’m not in any debt and I love coming to work every day. Not too many people can say that.”