Look in any retail design trade publication and you’re presented with glamorous photographs of exotic retail locations sprinkled across the world’s largest metro areas. From big chains to small boutiques, seemingly if you want to see where it’s at in terms of retail design you’d better head downtown, or hop on a plane.
A recent vacation reminded me that you don’t have to travel to the big city to experience the best of retail. We spent our mid-summer family holiday in the town of Ellicottville in western New York state. It’s an international ski town that I’ve personally visited for the better part of thirty years; watching it adapt, evolve and grow. Despite the focus on winter, when the town is flooded by winter sport lovers from across the region (and Canada), it has grown into a vibrant summer scene also. And any time we’re in town we make a point of visiting the stores that line its main streets.
The village (part of the town by the same name) is very quaint and devoid of national chains. It’s a paradise for viewing independent retail up close and personal. Stores have come and gone through the years but vacancy isn’t too high right now so it is a great time to visit. There are several new stores to supplement the old standbys.
I took the time to visit most of the stores, and even talked to a few of the merchants to learn more about their awesome retail spaces. I suspect many of them are designing the stores themselves, and exciting those designs by the sweat of their own brow (one merchant said as much). Whether they do the work themselves, or hire someone (hint, hint) the key is knowing their brand and having that communicated in every way. Most of the stores we visited did this exceedingly well. As a retail designer I didn’t see much I would have done differently, and many things that I found beyond delight as a designer, and shopper.
Walking through the stores reminded me of how much I love shopping and retail environments. It made for a fun morning. An experience that can’t be replicated online. Nor is it easily translatable to mass retail.
So before you book your design team trip to New York City, San Francisco, London or wherever it is you go, consider driving through the countryside closer to home. There are a lot of great independent retailers creating really awesome retail experiences right in front of us.
Where are your favorite hole in the wall retail design haunts? Share in the comments below after enjoying the photos of Ellicottville.
View down Washington Street, the main drag of Ellicottville, New York.
Simple packaging and display punctuate Trace Elements Bath & Spa products in Nouriche.
Nouriche boutique creates a curated look with this segmented display, punctuated with birch tree branches.
An open floor plan, recycled wood and unique sculptural elements make for an inviting experience at Nouriche.
An interesting, clever, home-made way to display wine bottle stoppers.
Facade of Dina’s features unique sconces and rust sign.
Most stores would have to fake this level of authenticity. Stop by Dina’s for lunch and enjoy the earthy interior.
We don’t make a point of photographing dressing rooms but the ones at Gado Gado are a visual delight. It demonstrates an understanding that the entire process it an opportunity to communicate your brand.
Cool product hooks made from pipe and knobs at Gado Gado.
Interesting and unique store fronts are the hallmark of independent, small town retailers. Clustered together they are able to feed off of each other for the greater benefit of all.
A casual seating area in Nature’s Remedy provides a spot to discuss products, try some tea or just talk about local events.
You see a lot of canoe shaped displays to varying effect in town.
Virtually all of the retail spaces are in century old buildings, lending a sense of authenticity that is hard to fake.
Big city quality merchandising with small town intimacy at Daff Dry Goods.
Natural light pours into Daff Dry Goods. The interior features great light fixtures, merchandising that encourages exploration and an eclectic mix of products.
We love these handmade snakes and sharks at Daff Dry Goods.
Detail of wreath and bird house outside The Purple Doorknob.
An over the top color scheme is right at home in the village of Ellicottville, New York creating a special atmosphere that benefits the store, tourists and entire town, while remaining true to The Purple Doorknob brand and business needs.
Looking every bit as trendy and hip as any boutique in the New York City. Here the front desk of Mud, Sweat n’ Gears is highlighted by bright blue antler chandeliers.
Mud, Sweat n’ Gears Ski and Snowboard is an open floor plan gem, with pops of trendy furniture and fixtures.
Like many stores in the village, Red Door Ski Shop is more than a ski shop; selling various outdoor and fitness related products year round. A simple color scheme and obligatory red door have been promoting the brand for decades.
Visit the Gin Mill for dinner and live music year round after you go shopping.
Flurry is a new shop with an intimate interior space. No photo of them, but if you go inside check out the displays made from old doors. Very cool and authentic.
Local wine at the Winery of Ellicottville.
Wide sidewalks and store fronts, replete with trees, flowers and historical details beckon visitors to explore and buy.
The clock in the center of town is a nice spot to rest and watch the world go by without all the hassles of the big city.
Aardvark Home Furnishings sign.
Ladder repurposed as a clothing rack in The City Garage.
Paint cans repurposed as flower holders outside The City Garage.
A screwdriver holds open the door for guests at The City Garage.
The City Garage is open year round selling outdoor products for the active lifestyle.
What likely started as one ski sticker has turned a mundane ventilation duct into a design element at The City Garage.
Love the door handles at The City Garage.
Beauty in the details, the door bell of The City Garage.
What do you get when you combine burritos and bike repair? The Ellicottville Bike Shop / Bike and Bean. We didn’t have our bikes, but we did grab some burritos to go.
President, Chris Weigand Design, LLC
Chris Weigand Design is a full service professional retail design and branding consultancy. We work with companies of all sizes to design compelling design solutions that connect with customers. We love shopping, we love going out to stores and seeing what merchants are doing. We enjoy creating really awesome solutions for our clients. Contact us today at 330.858.8926 to find out how we can make your store a place that people love to shop.