Article by Gina Myers
With its high ceiling, exposed brick wall, wooden floor, and hip atmosphere, Urban Laundry, Saginaw Street's newest business, could easily fit in among the trendy clothing boutiques that line the streets in Manhattan's Soho. "We wanted something relaxed, but with some modern elements to it," owner Dave Dittenber explains.
Dittenber is no stranger to running a business in Downtown Bay City. He owns the restaurant Old City Hall, and when the space next door opened up, he joined with Freeland physician Thad Rathkamp to create Urban Laundry. Dittenber says he had been hearing about a need for another option for clothing in downtown, and he and Rathkamp thought Urban Laundry could fill that need.
Store manager Dan Harborth, who tended bar at Old City Hall, also felt the need. "My friends and I would have to drive to Detroit to find what we were looking for, so opening this kind of store here makes sense."
For advice, Dittenber, Rathkamp, and Harborth turned to Jacqueline Bradley, former owner of Athalias in Midland who is now a consultant and buyer who specializes in boutique shops. Urban Laundry is self-described as a "denim and fashion lounge, specializing in classic and contemporary clothing for both men and women." The clothing lines they decided to go with are lines that cannot be found anywhere else in the area: True Religion, Original Penguin, Chip and Pepper, Laguna Beach, Mavi, Skin, Roxanne, and Kid Rock's line Made in Detroit are just a few of the brands they carry.
Harborth even picked some of the clothing with specific friends in mind. "When I saw the Laguna Beach jeans, I knew my friends would like them. Once they arrived, I called everyone to come check them out, and sure enough they loved them."
One of the store's specialties is premium denim. Jeans start at about $59 dollars, with the more high-end brands costing anywhere up to $300. They also offer a free gift with every denim purchase and a free tote bag with any men's or women's t-shirt purchase. In addition to jeans and t-shirts, they carry belts, sweaters, dresses, tops, sweatshirts, outerwear, scarfs, and hats. More items will be coming in for the holidays, including more accessories and coats. They also offer gift cards.
Urban Laundry is happy to make special orders and listen to what their customers are interested in. Dittenber says, "We are trying to listen to our customers and buy accordingly, so we can gain our customers' loyalty."
Harborth echoes this sentiment, "We want people to keep coming back because our stock will be changing and growing." Harborth also says he is happy to work around customers' schedules, opening the store off hours if necessary. Urban Laundry wants to return to the days of the personal shopping experience that has largely been forgotten by mall and big box retailers, but the employees also won't hound customers. Since they do not work on commission, the workers will be there to serve the customer or leave him or her alone if that is preferred.
Harborth hopes the store has an Empire Records type feel "where the atmosphere is fun and positive and where people will feel comfortable whether they buy anything or not." His favorite part of the store is a lounge area near the dressing rooms where shoppers can rest their feet and check out whatever is playing on the flat screen TV across from them.
Since its opening on October 8th, the store has been very well received. The owners do not envision any one demographic as their customer base—they think there is something in their store for anyone between the ages of 16 to 60, even if it is just a gift.
With its opening, Urban Laundry has joined the other businesses on Saginaw Street that are creating new energy for Bay City's future. Rathkamp, excited to be a part of downtown Bay City, says, "We are young business people and we feel like we need to continue to reinvest and offer something you wouldn't normally be able to find here."
Urban Laundry is located at 812 Saginaw Street in Bay City. Store hours are Monday - Wednesday from 11 to 6; Thursday from 11 to 7; Friday from 11 to 6; Saturday from 12 to 5; and by appointment off hours.
© Gina Myers, 2009