Fashion on four wheels: Pittsburgh embraces mobile boutiques
March 28, 2016 12:00 AM
Vintage Valet fashion truck owner Marissa Zimmerman assists shoppers during a fashion pop-up event in Market Square during Pittsburgh Fashion Week.
Courtesy of Vintage Valet
Marissa Zimmerman with her fashion truck, the Vintage Valet.
Jackee Ging (right) helps customer Pam Palmer choose a dress inside Ms. Ging's Style Truck mobile boutique.
Courtesy of Style Truck
Jackee Ging inside her mobile boutique, Style Truck.
Courtesy of Style Truck
Style Truck, owned by Jackee Ging, is one of Pittsburgh's mobile boutiques.
Magnolia on Main is Pittsburgh's newest mobile boutique.
Bernie Rupcich and Kim DiMarco inside their new fashion truck, Magnolia on Main.
Kate Colussy with her vintage fashion truck, Highway Robbery.
Kate Colussy will soon be taking to the road with her vintage fashion truck, Highway Robbery.
Kate Colussy behind the wheel of her fashion truck, Highway Robbery.
By Sara Bauknecht / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Now that spring is here, it won’t be long until Pittsburgh’s fashion trucks pull up to a flea market, festival or street fair near you.
Keep your eyes peeled for four of them: Style Truck by Jackee Ging, Vintage Valet by Marissa Zimmerman, Highway Robbery Vintage by Kate Colussy and, the latest mobile boutique on the block, Magnolia on Main by Bernie Rupcich and Kim DiMarco. Each truck is stocked with a unique selection of apparel and accessories and, in some cases, home decor.
Keep up with Pittsburgh’s fashion trucks
Find the city’s mobile boutiques on the Web to follow their calendars and find out where they’ll be pulling up next.
Nationwide, there are about 600 retail trucks, according to the American Mobile Retail Association, a membership-based group started in 2013 that supports the efforts and needs of these business owners. Most trucks are concentrated on the West Coast, with New York City, Washington, D.C., and Florida being other hot spots for them. They take on a mix of looks and sizes, from 1960s’-style trailers and 18-wheelers to vehicles that resemble an ice cream truck.
Locally, the fashion truck trend came on the scene in 2013 with Roadie, a pickup truck and Jeep Liberty that eventually were replaced with a rustic 1981 RV. When the RV died, however, so did Roadie. More recently, Pittsburgh’s fashion truck fleet lost the Broke Little Rich Girl truck, which was listed for sale on social media last fall. It was known for its trendy-yet-affordable fashions and its companion brick-and-mortar store on Butler Street in Lawrenceville, which now has its windows boarded up.
This month, Pittsburgh welcomed its newest truck Magnolia on Main, a former shuttle van that’s been gutted and glamorized with reclaimed materials, such as tin from an old barn. The truck caters to the 30-plus crowd with athleisure wear, upcycled pieces (candles made from recycled wine bottles and handbags crafted from army cots, for instance), several American-made brands and one-on-one service. And its unique name?
Like a magnolia flower, “We show up in your neighborhood, we’re beautiful while we’re there and we’re temporary,” Ms. Rupcich says. Her business partner Ms. DiMarco thought up the rest of it because “every town has a Main Street, so we would be at home wherever we go.”
Ms. Rupcich got the idea for the truck from her sister, who shared with her an article about some of Pittsburgh’s other nomadic retailers. Given her decades of Pittsburgh retail experience at Horne’s and Macy’s department stores (Ms. DiMarco is a retail veteran, too), it seemed like a perfect fit.
But would there be enough interest in style across the Steel City to sustain another mobile boutique?
“Retail is not dead in Pittsburgh. It’s changing in Pittsburgh,” she says, explaining that she scouted shopping options in several neighborhoods and was impressed by what she found.
Fashion trucks that have been on the road for a couple of years say that Pittsburghers continue to embrace them.
“They find it interesting,” says Vintage Valet owner Ms. Zimmerman, who’s heading into her third summer with the truck. “There are ones who are like, ‘when is the next time we’re going to see you?’ ”
For Ms. Ging of Style Truck, which also has been part of Pittsburgh’s fashion scene for about three years, her calendar of events and private shopping parties is filling up fast for 2016, she says. Plus, she’s attracting new shoppers.
“I’m just shocked there are still so many people who’ve never heard of [fashion trucks],” Ms. Ging says.
Ms. Colussy, who owns the store Highway Robbery Vintage on the South Side, discovered that starting a mobile boutique by the same name has, literally, been a strong promotional vehicle for her brick-and-mortar location.
“It’s a good complement to the store,” she says. “It’s the same energy as the store, which is fun and youthful and just something exciting about it. If you like the store, you would probably like the truck and vice versa.”
But being in the mobile boutique business brings with it some challenges.
“Legislation always is a big issue. It just varies across the board,” says American Mobile Retail Association president Stacey Jischke-Steffe, who also is one of the group’s founders. Knowing where and when trucks can park in some places can be unclear because “sometimes cities don’t have it clearly stated in black and white,” while others haven’t updated these sorts of bylaws since the days of peddlers from decades past.
Pittsburgh City Council revised in December its code for food trucks, which also applies to mobile boutiques. What was previously on the books dated back to the 1970s and was originally intended to regulate ice cream trucks. Some of the major components of the rewrite, sponsored by Councilman Dan Gilman, pertain to how long a truck can be parked (mobile vendors can sit in any one place for four hours, up from what used to be 30 minutes), required vendor licensing, signage, and public cleanliness and safety. Mobile vendors also aren’t permitted to sell goods within 100 feet of a brick-and-mortar operation that sells the same or similar merchandise. Downtown is accessible to mobile retailers, with the exception of Market Square because of its tight street grid and limited parking.
Local fashion trucks often opt for partnering with private businesses such as a salon or restaurant, especially those with their own parking lots, because there are limited regulations to navigate and ample space. Coming Downtown can be tricky due to parking; it’s tough to find a place where there’s enough room for a mobile boutique to park. Also, unlike food trucks, fashion trucks typically line the exterior of their trucks with clothing racks, which take up even more space. Having more opportunities to have a presence in Market Square, such as during special events, is greatly desired, local truck owners say.
Nevertheless, the fact that Pittsburgh is home to several trucks is a good sign for the city.
“That’s really encouraging because it shows that the business model is sustainable there and that the city obviously welcomes it,” Ms. Jischke-Steffe says. “That’s definitely a very encouraging thing for anyone who was thinking about going into the business.”
Sara Bauknecht: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter and Instagram @SaraB_PG.
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