CHAMBERSBURG – By the time Kara Pittman cut the ribbon and formally opened Northeast Hide‘s new location on February 8, customers had already been lined up for more than a half hour.
Pittman had decided to relocate her business – which sells women’s clothing, candles, printed drinkware, leather earrings and more – from Lincoln Way East to Wayne Avenue in search of foot traffic and control over the interior design.
And on both of those counts, her instincts have proven to be correct.
“The traffic from other businesses has just been incredible,” said Pittman of their ideal positioning between a salon and a nail salon.
The strip also includes Inka Kitchen (811 Wayne Ave.), India Café (815 Wayne Ave.), the DIY workshop Hammer & Stain (829 Wayne Ave.) and a laundromat. Montezuma Mexican Restaurant (820 Wayne Ave.) has a location just across the street.
With the addition of the newly constructed Wendy’s, Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts over by the I-81 ramps and Organic Remedies Medical Marijuana Dispensary (900 Wayne Ave.) in what used to be a Sheetz, it’s possible that Chambersburgers are witnessing the beginning of Wayne Avenue’s second act.
While Pittman knew that the move would help the business, she had underestimated the enthusiasm with which Northeast Hide would be embraced out of the gate.
The store had sold a significant portion of inventory during the opening, and even burned through the much of the overflow in the back room.
“We really did try to prepare ourselves for it, but even what we prepared for – we sold even more than that,” she explained.
Pittman had signed the lease for 791 Wayne Avenue in January and spent the month remodeling what was essentially a blank box. They laid the floors, installed the lighting and did lots of painting. She also handpicked the fixtures and décor.
“I love designing,” said Pittman. “Anyone who comes to our home knows that my house is forever changing, so when I got to redo this store it was amazing. That’s where my love is. I really put my whole heart into designing this.”
When she shared preliminary images of the space with fans, the reactions were quite favorable.
“One of our regulars said, ‘That is something that you would find in Charleston,’” said Pittman. “That was the exciting part for us. We wanted to bring something unique to Chambersburg.”
She added: “There are other stores opening like ours, and we wanted it to feel different than the rest. We wanted to stand out from the rest as far as what we could offer and what we could bring to the table.”
The result is a store that is light, airy and open where her original location was more industrial. Northeast Hide isn’t a physically large space, but it can hold an impressive amount of merchandise without feeling crowded.
“We wanted to have a nice flow to the store, and we kept things very white, neutral,” said Pittman, “but we also added in a lot of color with the clothing so that you have that fresh feel when you walked in the door.”
That clothes that are hand-selected by Pittman from wholesalers (in person at conventions whenever possible). Initially she had cast a wide net, but has since honed in on a few wholesalers that her customers have responded very positively to in respect to textures, sizing, material and quality.
“People are learning how that brand fits them,” said Pittman, “so they’re able to come in and grab that brand in that size and it works for them.”
In addition to clothing, the boutique carries candles under the Northeast Hide brand (they are made by Pittman’s daughter) and products from three local vendors: Outlaw Graphics, Lenny Ro and The Clay Monkey.
And leather earrings.
“Our brand started with making leather earrings back in 2018,” said Pittman. “That’s what took off for us. We were the first people offering them, and our following grew very rapidly.”
For the past few decades, brick-and-mortar stores have struggled to adapt to online sales and eCommerce. But recently, the order seems to have reversed, and now successful digital storefronts are expanding to include physical storefronts.
In 2018, Pittman would get a selection of jewelry ready and numbered, and she would tell her friends and family that they should expect to see her video pop up in their feed.
“Each week I did a live sale, and our friends and family got the hang of it,” she said.
By 2019 they were selling up to 300 earrings per live sale and building an army of followers that would stay with her when she set up her first location and – as the grand opening suggests – are still with her.
“You have to form a customer base before you open your doors,” said Pittman when asked if she had any advice for people who might want to open their own shops. “I don’t think we would be as successful had we not done the live sales consistently.”
The live sales have earned her customers, friends and even employees – sometimes all three are the same person.
“They walk in, and we typically know them by name,” she said. “We want to make it personal, and that’s what we can bring to the table as a smaller boutique – being personable and knowing names and customers and faces.”
For now, though, Pittman’s attention is on the brick-and-mortar side of things and the opportunities for one-on-one customer interactions.
“We’ve just been amazed at the support on this road – just moving locations – what that did for us,” she said. “We’ve been blessed since we moved here. We’ve doubled our growth.”
“My husband always jokes ‘Can I retire yet?’ she said laughing. “That’s my goal: to have this be ours and the only thing we do.”
[Main image caption: Northeast Hide owner Kara Pittman poses in front of the cash wrap counter in her boutique’s new location, which had held a ribbon cutting ceremony on Feburary 8, 2020. The picture was taken on February 14, 2020.]