Back to Now reprises, surprises
- Published: December 10, 2015
Springboro resident Marilyn Grounds had an “aha” moment visiting her son in East Nashville this summer. Browsing the city’s shops and finding unusual items that she loved, she realized that she wanted not just to buy interesting things, but also to sell them.
“I suddenly thought, ‘This is what I want to do,’” she said in a recent interview.
A former corporate marketing professional, Grounds had never owned a business. Yet on Oct. 3, just a couple of months after her retail epiphany, she opened Back to Now, a vintage/recycled shop selling gently worn clothing for women and men, jewelry, decorative items, antiques and a small selection of used CDs and LPs. The shop is located in Kings Yard, in the space formerly occupied by Elements.
Grounds sees a certain “karma” at work in her exceptionally short journey from concept to shop. For one thing, she knew from many years of visiting Yellow Springs that she wanted to locate her business here.
“I had my heart set on Yellow Springs,” she said, adding that East Nashville, where her idea was born, is “kind of like a big Yellow Springs.”
So when she came to the village looking for real estate and noticed the vacant Kings Yard space, owned by Bob Baldwin, she rented it immediately — though she had not yet purchased any merchandise.
“I ran around like a crazy person” buying items for the shop, she said, trawling friends’ and strangers’ garage sales and estate sales, as well as the occasional thrift store. She opened two months later, just a week before October Street Fair, which proved to be excellent timing.
Thanks in part to Street Fair, the shop’s first three weeks were “amazing,” she said, bringing in what she expected to see in the first three months. Business has leveled off from that opening burst, but continues to far exceed her hopes. Just two months into operation, Back to Now generates enough revenue to cover rent, utilities, merchandise and advertising, she said, as well as the wages of two part-time sales associates, Becky O’Brien and Michelle High-Gossett, who each work one day a week at the shop. (Grounds’ husband, Bob, also often works one day a week.)
“We were told you have to have a niche to succeed in Yellow Springs,” said Grounds, who believes she may have found hers.
Her motto is “use existing resources,” and that translates into finding “quality items in good condition” that can be used and enjoyed one more time. By buying mostly from garage and estate sales — from individuals rather than other businesses — she avoids paying mark-ups and is able to keep her prices low, she said.
The least expensive item in the shop last week was an unopened package of Christmas ribbon, costing just a quarter, while the most expensive items were two Eastlake tables, Victorian-era antiques, priced at $249.99 each. But most items are much lower, and many sweaters and shirts sell for only a few dollars.
“I go through a lot I wouldn’t buy to find the things I would,” she explained, with obvious delight in the nifty find — a lion’s claw lamp, an unusual piece of Rosewood pottery, a vintage sewing machine (repaired to working order by her husband) or a set of six Marilyn Monroe collectible dolls, each dressed in a different, fabulous outfit.
Clothes and jewelry are the biggest sellers, she said. While some customers buy a sweater or belt for straightforward use, others buy pieces with an eye for transformation. She recently sold an Asian tapestry featuring a peacock; the new owner planned to cut out the bird and sew it onto the back of a jacket. Another customer bought a white lace dress as the basis for a homemade wedding gown.
“Knowing that someone is going to use an item to make something new is really satisfying to me,” Grounds said.
Learning what customers like is part of the fun, and challenge. She’s been surprised by what sells quickly and what takes longer. A haul of older clothes from a friend’s garage sale — “really wild-looking things,” she said — sold right away; a set of carved Swedish horses priced below market still prance in place on their shelf, waiting for the right buyer.
“At first I was focused on what I liked, but I’m learning to buy a wider array,” she said. Still, it’s a challenge to resist keeping, or giving to her adult children, some of what she buys. “I’m training myself not to. But I usually have something on that I’ve kept,” she said — flashing a silver ring.
Business was especially brisk on Friday and Sunday of the recent holiday, she said. Right now the shop is open seven days a week, from around 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day. (Buying trips take up her mornings and sometimes bring her to the shop a little later than 11, she explained.) She will likely move to a five-day schedule in January. And she’s buying heavily now in anticipation of fewer opportunities — certainly, fewer garage sales — over the winter. She already has inventory in storage.
Another piece of the karma is the shop’s interior, which had been extensively remodeled by Constantina Clark several years ago for her planned shop, Constantina’s Soul, which never opened. The floor is black-and-white checkerboard marble; the walls gleam in tin, lacquered wood paneling and mirrors.
“It’s perfect. It has a vintage feel,” Grounds said.
The shop’s name, Back to Now, is a riff on “Back to the Future,” but with a Buddhist twist. The idea, she said, is not just that older items get new use in the present, but that appreciating them brings a person into the present moment — the “now.”
The shop relies on the serendipity of Yellow Springs foot traffic. Grounds also does some local advertising and maintains Facebook and Instagram accounts. She said she “couldn’t be happier” with how the business is shaping up just two months in.
“You learn so much as you go through the process,” she explained. But she has no formal business plan. “It’s all in here,” she said, tapping her head.