While her Rehoboth store in the Village by the Sea is preparing for its 19th summer, owner Joan Thompson’s new Anything Goes in Bethany Beach will try its hand at its Route 26 location for its first big season.
“I’ve enjoyed a really wonderful, fun customer base,” said Thompson. Her store carries everything from purses, jewelry and accessories to casual and formal wear, catering to women with a fun sense of style, as she puts it.
“Most of what I have is either one-of-a-kind or hand-made,” she said. “A lot of the clothing comes from European lines. It’s all very intricate and upbeat — and a little edgy, but not weird. We can fit pretty much anyone, from a 2-4 up to a 16-18.” Many small American designers are represented throughout the store, as well as hand-knitting and personally crafted jewelry.
“The jewelry I carry makes is completely original,” she said. “Each one is unlike any other, and that’s the whole fun of it. For example, when someone sees a necklace here with glass beads, it’s not that someone took it and strung it. They actually blew the glass beads. The felt pins I sell were made completely by hand. A woman anodized the sterling, made the felt, dyed it and put it together in a pattern. It’s not just pieces you pick up at a craft store.”
A lot of her customers keep coming back because they enjoy finding new things that appeal to them, she said. “Most of the customers here are in their 40’s and older,” she added. “I don’t have a lot of customers in their 20’s and 30’s, but it’s not completely restricted.”
The expansion to the store in Bethany was an easy one for Thompson to make. “I had a lot of clientele from Bethany that was always coming up to Rehoboth,” she said. “A lot of customers were afraid I was closing the store up there, but I just wanted a way to reach more people.”
Thompson keeps the majority of the products split between the two shops. “Shoppers will sense the same feeling at both stores,” she said. “I try to carry one line at the Rehoboth one, then I’ll find something else I like and sell it here in Bethany. It gives people a reason to check out both locations.”
Opening the second location is also giving her the chance to feel out the area. “I know Rehoboth pretty well,” she said, “but not here so much. I’m still learning the area here.”
She’s found that running two retail stores is no easy task alone. Joan’s husband, Kent Thompson, has helped out with much of the behind-the-scenes aspects of the business, including the pricing, books and payroll. “I work a lot with the stuff in the computer system, and moving things back and forth,” he said.
Spending much of his time as the financial advisor at Georgetown University, Kent Thompson knows all about balancing numbers. He ran his own store in Rehoboth for 27 years, a children and infant clothing store in the Village by the Sea, called Whippersnappers. Since working with his wife at her shops, it has since changed hands and its name, now called Lilypad.
“I’m so used to working up front, it was a little different to be behind-the-scenes, but it’s a nice change. Joan has a really good eye for these things,” he added. “She sees it, does it, and goes with it. She’s found some really unique stuff. She works quickly, but has been doing it long enough that the suppliers are great with her. It’s hard to keep up sometimes.” The Thompson’s dog, Lizzy, also keeps a watchful eye over the shop.
Joan Thompson said she’s a little overwhelmed for the time being, juggling her schedule between stores, managing sales with representatives all over the world and attending shows to find new styles, but doesn’t plan for any more expansion in the near future. “It gets a little tiring, but I love it,” she said.
Retail may come as second nature to Joan now, but it’s a far cry from her previous job as a research analyst at the Justice Department, Civil Rights Division, which ended two decades ago.
“No one in retail starts in retail,” she said with a laugh. “It’s something that finds you.”
She began in a partnership in Washington, D.C., selling Christmas ornaments and decorations. One day, she was approached by a sales rep who threw around the idea of her selling clothing. Before long, all of the ornaments on the shelves were replaced with clothing, unknown to her partner, and business picked right up.
Six months passed before her partner, who dealt with the books and money, found what caused the spike in sales. “I think what worked best,” said Joan Thompson, “is that I wasn’t afraid to try something new.”
Now bit by the retail bug, she doesn’t see herself getting out of it anytime soon. Clothing, style and fashion are now very much a part of the way she thinks.
“I believe clothing is like costumes,” she said. “It should be fun, comfortable, easy, but it should be interesting. You should feel really good in what you wear. That’s the fun of it. It doesn’t matter who thinks you look good in it if you like it.”
For more information about Anything Goes, located in Bethany Beach, beside Connor’s Package Store, call (302) 537-1137. For the Rehoboth location, in the Village by the Sea, call (302) 227-2960.