It's the Absolute Best of Tulsa issue, and I love it. I am a real sucker for awards and determining what's best. I love a good list. It's like "High Fidelity" in my head at any given moment. And while I highly regard my own opinions, it's fun to see what other people in Tulsa think is the best this and the best that. It sparks conversations about local culture and might bring about adventure.
If everyone else in Tulsa says this restaurant is good, let's try it. If this band was voted best, we should go hear it. Tulsans do a pretty decent job of supporting local resources. For the most part, we flock to new restaurants established by our fellow citizens and we congregate at our favorite local bars in hordes, especially if one of our local bands is playing that night. We love a farmer's market, we visit art shows and theater performances and gather all of our friends to go to festivals. It's so Midwestern of us to support our town, but we are a proud city, one that could potentially flourish into a hip city like Chicago or Austin. Smack dab in between the two, we are the finest city the buckle of the Bible belt has ever seen. So why does it seem that while we are supporting every other culture in our area, we are neglecting our local boutiques?
Please note the "seem" in the previous sentence. I have not called various businesses throughout the Tulsa area, requesting fiscal earnings for the past five years. I have not created a pie chart showing the percentages of businesses thriving. There is no graph with a red line going in a diagonal line towards zero. I have no doubt that Tulsans are shopping our local boutiques. Obviously, you were knowledgeable enough to vote for your favorite local boutique, so you're getting out there occasionally. I could be completely off base with this theory (which I came to after learning the winner for Absolute Best Boutique; see for yourself on page xx), but do Tulsans just have complete boutique and brand loyalty, or are you just not shopping, or not trying to shop, anywhere else locally?
Well, yes, you are shopping elsewhere. You're shopping at Woodland Hills and Promenade Mall. It's not a horrible thing; we all do it. It's the convenience, the damn convenience, of having a bazillion choices in clothing items in a crazy assortment of styles all under one roof.
No luck finding what you need in one store? Walk to the next one. My qualms about mega stores and conglomerate chains are their inability to breed creativity in consumers; with all of us shopping at the same stores, it just gets a little boring. But now I find that the problem of shopping at the malls is what it does to our city. With consumers spending their money at the malls and not at our boutiques, we risk new businesses not beginning and destroying the ones that are currently in business. Without these local places, it's depressing. Welcome to Tulsa shoppers--home to several Gaps and American Eagles. Bleh!
I know Tulsans have it in them to support great, local retailers. I know it from the way that Louis and Cluck t-shirts have taken off, as well as their new incarnation, Okie Grown shirts. I have a feeling I know a few reasons that prevent people from really branching out into the local boutiques, so let's address them head on. No more excuses!
Cost. Let's face it, Tulsa boutiques aren't trying to sell you $5 tees and $24 pants. The term boutique doesn't really evoke cheap prices, now does it? But that's its niche. Boutiques provide you with high fashion, high quality pieces to incorporate into your wardrobe. You might not be able to buy everything you wear from Tulsa boutiques, but there's no harm in investing in an item worthy of a higher cost occasionally. I hate to use this lousy comparison, but it's like fast food versus a fancy steak dinner. The mall gives you the fast food that gets you by (the previously mentioned $5 tees and $24 pants), but sometimes you deserve a nice meal, er, article of clothing. So why shouldn't that treat come from Flirt or Luxe Couture instead of some crap mall store?
That's not to say that all Tulsa boutiques have sky-high prices. Modo, for instance, has found a balance between unique, higher priced items and looks that fit a smaller budget. The store also has later store hours, another problem I think people have regarding shopping locally. I don't mean to imply that everyone works your standard eight to five, Monday through Friday, but many of us do--including boutique owners, who throughout the Tulsa area have adapted this same time frame. Some throw us a bone and are open until 6pm. Most aren't open on Sundays; some are closed Mondays. And that mall just sits there, open every day, most until 9pm.
Stores are getting crafty to your fickleness, shoppers. Modo has recently adopted an open-by-appointment-only policy. Interested shoppers can view available merchandise through Modo's online look book and then call to schedule an appointment to shop. It's personal shopping on your time. Once a month, the store has a big sale and is open a full day. Additionally, it hosts art shows featuring local artists where you can drink wine, shop art and outright shop. Other stores like Instincts, open from 9am to 9pm six days a week and Cheap Thrills, open every day and until 7pm on weekdays, give Tulsans the access they need.
Access is also about location. Modo's on Cherry Street, just like Chrome and a lot of other local boutiques. Brookside's another similar location--with Nattie Bleu and Sideways--as is Utica Square. These three spots seem to be saturated with local boutiques. Huzzah if you live in midtown, but if you don't, you might feel obligated to go elsewhere. Were you thinking of a mall? You thought wrong.
Smaller shopping centers have populated Tulsa. Stores like Terri's, The Glass Slipper, Luxe Couture and All Access Clothing are scattered across the city. If you live near one of these atypical shopping spots, say 91st and Riverside or 81st and Lewis, these boutiques are far more convenient than any place else, especially the malls. And even if you don't, it's no excuse. You might drive to various parts of the city to try a new restaurant. Driving throughout the city to find new shopping is no different, except, unlike a meal, what you receive for your money will last longer.The only other trepidation Tulsans may have towards local boutiques is the thought that there isn't enough diversity in what is being bought and sold. It is true that many of the stores in Tulsa seem to be reaching for the same audience--women aged from late high school to early 30s. They are all also trying to bring the trendiest, most fashionable items to Tulsa, which can sometimes translate into having very similar items store to store.
I believe they honestly try to find very unique items, things that they love and think that work for every woman, items flattering for every size, but since these stores generally choose items based on current trends and the market, their hands are sort of tied to what's being offered. That trickles down to consumers whose hands are tied to what's being offered in boutiques. But, there are many stores throughout Tulsa that focus on other areas of the fashion industry. There are stores for jewelry only, undergarments, and shoes as well. You can find selections of men's clothing in some of Tulsa's boutiques, but there are also boutiques especially for guys. There are also stores for kids and babies, starting at sizes straight from the womb through to high school graduation.
More than just a head's up to Tulsans, perhaps this story will provide a little more insight for current and future store owners of what Tulsans want from their shopping experience. Shoppers want only the absolute best of Tulsa. We should also want the absolute best for Tulsa.
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