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News / Business / Clark County Business

Wild Fern Boutique moves to downtown Vancouver, nearly triples in size

Clothing store made its debut three years ago in Uptown Village

By Anthony Macuk, Columbian business reporter
Published: November 15, 2019, 6:00am
6 Photos
Natasha Hauskins keeps the sweaters tidy while working at Wild Fern Boutique in downtown Vancouver on Thursday afternoon.
Natasha Hauskins keeps the sweaters tidy while working at Wild Fern Boutique in downtown Vancouver on Thursday afternoon. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Downtown Vancouver’s burgeoning lineup of retail stores landed another addition earlier this month with the arrival of Wild Fern Boutique, a clothing store that originated in the Uptown Village neighborhood.

Wild Fern opened at its new location, 901 Main St., on Nov. 1. The store’s owner, Deanna Gaines, said she originally opened the store three years ago to fill a shopping need that she and others in the area felt had gone unmet — and she hopes the new site can play a similar role in downtown Vancouver’s retail scene.

Wild Fern initially focused on women’s clothing, but the store also had a lineup of men’s clothing. Gaines said she’s been able to expand that lineup since the move, and the store has also branched out into plants, books, home goods, decorations and other gift items.

“We’re just as much a gift store as clothing store,” Gaines said.

The store’s clothing lineup rotates frequently, Gaines said, with the goal of keeping things fresh and finding new and unique brands that customers can’t get around Vancouver. The store also carries a lineup of handcrafted jewelry, working with about a half-dozen local artists.

The possibility of moving came up when her Uptown Village store’s lease ran out. She considered whether to renew or move but ultimately decided that the downtown area had more space for future retail growth.

She began looking at downtown properties — and ran into multiple landlords who seemed more interested in filling their storefronts with restaurants or other food and beverage uses.

“Very few were interested in retail,” she said.

Leap of faith

The Main Street storefront became a leap of faith — not only because of the new location, but because it nearly tripled both the store’s square footage and its rent.

Gaines said she was looking for a bigger storefront — although not necessarily three times the size of the 1,400-square-foot Uptown Village location — but her two biggest criteria were the new storefront’s location and visibility. The site at the corner of Main and Ninth Streets was a good fit in both cases.

Wild Fern also adds to a historical legacy for the building, which was once home to a men’s clothing store called Melvin’s. Gaines said several shoppers in the first few weeks have said they’re happy to see a clothing store return to the site.

“We hear it every day — (people say) ‘Oh, this brings back so many memories,’ ” she said.

The bigger space led to an increase in staffing, inventory and furniture, Gaines said, although she’s also taken advantage of the extra room to space the racks and tables farther apart to give the store a calmer and airier feel.

Gaines said she worked to make Wild Fern a core part of the local community when it was in Uptown Village, and she wants to do the same at the new location.

The new site features a loft above the back half of the store that’s being used as office space and inventory storage, but Gaines said that once she gets more settled in, she wants to turn it into a pop-up space for local artists and designers.

Foot traffic key

The customers so far have been a mix of familiar faces from Uptown Village and new visitors from the downtown area, she said, often workers wandering in on their lunch breaks. Gaines said she sees that as a positive sign, because the growth of retail will depend on making it clear to downtown workers and residents that the area has become an easily walkable shopping district.

Wild Fern is making its downtown debut as the area undergoes a retail renaissance following years of struggling businesses and vacant storefronts. The resurgence has been evident in the number of new bars and restaurants that have cropped up in the past few years, but other categories of retail have been slower to take off.

Growing lineup

Wild Fern joins a lineup of downtown clothing stores that is still relatively modest but has been showing signs of growth. Believe Boutique opened last year. Gaines said she’s confident the trend will continue, and she hopes the early arrivals will be able to inspire future rounds of retail growth.

Gaines said she expects future arrivals to build off of the current round of retail stores. The stores in the current retail clothing lineup focus on either women’s clothes exclusively or clothes for women and men, but Gaines said she expects a men’s clothing store will be able to establish itself before too much longer.

“We really hope with this corner location, and it having been a clothing store in the past, that it will kind of help revive the retail industry,” she said. “As more people jump on that bandwagon of being local entrepreneurs, we’re going to do well down here.”

Columbian business reporter