Boutique Owner Celebrates 30 Years in Chatham
Doris Crater commemorates the anniversary with a vintage window display and trunk shows for customers.
When Doris Crater sewed an appliqué flower onto her daughter Kimberly's tennis skirt in 1978, she never thought it would turn into a successful Main Street business.
"I would personalize their clothes and towels," Crater said. "I just loved to sew."
But when she would take those personalized towels to the pool or the tennis club, people would come up to her and ask where they could get one, too.
Soon she was taking a few orders. Then it was a lot of orders. Then she started spending every morning in her basement sewing to keep up with demand. Before she knew it, she was operating a successful home business.
"It really started to grow, so I got a couple of gals doing the sewing for me," Crater said. "We did all the sewing ourselves. I did fashion shows for local tennis clubs, Kings Road School (in Madison), then I decided to open a store."
The first d.j. crater's opened in March 1983 and was located at 242 Main St., where The Stitching Bee is now. She kept a sewing machine at the counter where she could work between customers. Crater took out print advertisements, mailed out newsletters and put together a catalogue.
More importantly, Crater said, she took some advice from a friend, Donna Lang, who worked as a designer. "She said, whatever I do, I had to change my window every week so that people would be talking about it," Crater said.
As an homage to that advice and to celebrate 30 years with the store, Crater recreated a window from 1983 with some of the first things she ever sold or appliqué'd, including her daughter Kimberly's tennis skirt from 1978.
To get a sense of history, see the new window on display now at d.j. crater's, which features items from 1983 which Crater took out of storage especially for this display. "It's a testament to the power of Oxyclean," she said jokingly. "I soaked them for six hours."
About three years after the store opened Crater stopped doing appliqués as the main part of the store. "It was very successful, but it was very hard. I was designing them, making them, sewing all the time. I figured, why don't I buy clothes? It'd be easier," she said.
Instead she started looking for clothing lines that would appeal to what Crater calls "the suburban Chatham woman. ... Our customer wants to be updated, but they don't want to look like Talbots and they don't want to be really trendy, either," she said. "It's what's happening this year, but it's a version of it. ... It's traditional clothing with a flair."
Most of the clothes she orders for the store are eye-catching tops, but it changes each year. This year, she said, dresses are the big thing for spring and summer, and the store will stock accordingly.
Eventually Crater and her husband Rich bought the building at 250 Main St. and restored it to house a larger storefront and office. But Crater said what really attracted her to the building was the garden in the back. "I wanted to have a perennial garden," she said.
Crater's garden is a labor of love, much like the store. She finds peace among the flowers in springtime and even invites her customers to sit there while they wait for their purchases to be wrapped.
"Most say, 'Oh no, I'm too busy,' or they just look out the window," Crater said. "There's maybe one in 100 who actually go out there and sit down and enjoy it. But when they do, that one person is a soulmate."
After the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Crater held a fundraiser fashion show in the garden to support families impacted by the tragedy. "We raised $12,000," Crater said.
Crater, now 68, is in the process of retiring from the store and handing it over to her daughter, Kimberly Crater-Horn. "It's nice not to wake up in the night thinking of a list of things you need to do, did you re-order this or remember to do that," Crater said.
The store will stay in family hands, and Crater-Horn has ideas of her own for how to grow the store. She knows, however, that she holds a legacy in her hands. "My mom's been so successful here for 30 years," she said. "Ensuring the business continues to thrive is the most intimidating thing (about taking over)."
Crater invited all her present and former employees to the store for an anniversary celebration Monday evening. As a gift, she made each of them an appliqué'd towel, a throw-back to the store's beginnings.
The store will also host two trunk shows this week, one by Gretchen Scott from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday and another by Jude Connally from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday. All shoppers are welcome to attend.
The store will also offer a $10 voucher good at d.j. crater's for every $50 spent this week as they celebrate their anniversary. Prizes and cookies will also be given out with each purchase.