MONTAGUE, Mich. — Not every clothing store gets to say they have customers from hundreds of miles away who consider their store a favorite. A favorite to visit, not just order from online.
“I have had a lot of my Chicago customers order from me and tell me that they can't find a shop like this where they live,” says owner Shawna Vande Vrede. “They're really happy to be able to have this here when they come this way.”
“This way” is the village called Montague, across the channel from downtown Whitehall.
The Whitehall/Montague area attracts tourists from nearby and far away, given the access to Lake Michigan from White Lake and the lake houses and cottages up and down the Lakeshore in Muskegon County.
The store has been open less than three years, and Vande Vrede remembers trepidation about choosing such a small town. “You wonder, is there a need for retail, you know, are we going to be received well in the community?” she recalls. “And we have been absolutely astounded.”
Montague has been an accepting community, and the tourists came, too.
“There's a good mix. When summer hits, we definitely get a lot of influx from the Chicago area," Vande Vrede notes. “We do get a lot of people who will go away for the winter, like Arizona or Florida, and they have summer places here.”
As with all stores, the pandemic was a real speed bump for Figgs. “With not being able to have customers come into the store, we had to get creative on how we were going to try to sell the merchandise.”
Fortunately, when Vande Vrede tried social media and a new web site, it worked. But keeping a fresh inventory was a further challenge. “I wouldn't want to go into a store and continue to see the same merchandise every year,” she says. “I would want to see fresh; I would want to see new.” That’s not easy, considering circumstances where one supplier switched from making clothes to making masks. But Vande Vrede apparently holds no grudges: “They were being creative, too. So I think the whole industry has just really had to evolve and kind of learn new ways of doing things just to try to stay open and stay in business.”
And customers quickly changed what they were shopping for. They stopped buying for weddings, graduations, and other celebrations that simply stopped happening. And they didn’t need to dress for the office. “So, we tried to get more loungewear, that type of thing, where they can wear it at home but still wear it to the grocery store or running around town if they need to.”
“They want to be comfortable, but yet they want to look good while being comfortable.”
Vande Vrede appreciates the support she has received from far-flung customers and, especially, the locals. “The feedback, the support, it's been phenomenal, and I really do enjoy being a part of this small community. We've really gotten to know a lot of the customers it's just it's great. I've they've kind of become friends I know them. I know their families, and it's just, it's been it's been super wonderful.”