10 Years of Vintage


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A shop with the label “boutique” may lead people to think of a Rodeo-Drive-esque gallery with $600 blouses on its racks, while the term “consignment store” may conjure images of a fur-coat-clad Macklemore jumping stacks of outdated polyester and wool in his “Thrift Shop” video.

Revival, 117 E. College St., embraces both these labels, but the downtown retailer has created a happy marriage between a comfortable, quality boutique and a price-conscious and discerning consignment store for 10 years.

“Shopping shouldn’t feel like a chore,” Revival owner Sheila Davisson said. “We’ve really stuck to the voice of being what a woman’s closet is like. You want fun, original pieces but also need a black tank-top, so it’s cool that you can get both here and a fun, friendly experience.”

Revival has celebrated its 10th anniversary this month with special deals, products, and promotions that highlight its merchandise, which is half-new and half-vintage.

“Vintage always inspires trends today,” Davisson said. “You know that there aren’t six other pieces out there just like it.

You can develop your unique style.”

A 1995 graduate of City High, 1900 Morningside Drive, Davisson’s interest in fashion and business led her to New York City for school and work in production development, wholesale, and public relations in the fashion industry.

After some years in New York, she was on her way to Portland, Ore., when she stopped in Iowa City — and never left.

“Everything I needed was right here; I could still enjoy fashion,” she said. “But I missed the boutique-style stores in New York, and there was not a place in town doing buy-sell-trade. I really saw a need in Iowa City.”

So Davisson worked to serve this need, opening Revival’s doors on Sept. 3, 2003, at 116 S. Linn St. as an “edited consignment store,” selecting used clothing and accessories based on quality, affordability, and style.

“We look for clothing that fits with current trends — vintage that works,” she said. “We really don’t want to sell costume pieces; we want things that you can wear out of the store.”

But Davisson said it took a little education about the benefits of consignment before some Iowa City consumers got a feel for Revival.

“Secondhand shopping wasn’t mainstream at the time, [but] Iowa City was very open to it,” she said. “We got a lot of positive feedback and people saying that we needed a store like this. People feel like it’s a boutique from another city … and there are so many people from other cities here, so it has that flavor.”

The community responded so well to the business that by 2007, Revival left its 800-squarefoot Linn Street location for a well-traveled spot on the Pedestrian Mall with triple the space. Davisson and her staff used the additional square-footage by selling new products alongside the vintage goods.

“I think people get really excited for the new stuff,” said Abbey Sandberg, an employee who has worked at the store since Revival’s early days. “It’s grown a lot, but the field has stayed the same — it’s still the same customers, just with more space to move around. People still love vintage and consignment, and there’s a younger crowd in Iowa City who like to support small businesses.”

Encouraging local business is a passion of Davisson’s.

Some of the new merchandise Revival sells comes from Iowa outlets, while others are from small-scale clothing and accessory makers in the United States.

Its 10th-anniversary art — printed on posters and T-shirts — was designed by Iowa City artist Heather Atkinson.

Davisson has brought Revival out into the community by supporting such programs as the Mission Creek Festival, FilmScene, and the roller-derby team. The store has also teamed up with Catherine Champion — owner of Catherine’s Boutique, 7 S. Dubuque St., and Cheap & Chic, 105 S. Dubuque St. — to found Merci, a short-term pop-up consignment store on Clinton Street whose proceeds went to local charities such as Habitat for Humanity.

“Merci was our way of saying thank-you to the community that supports us,” Davisson said. “We [local businesses] like to stay open and encourage each other rather than being ultra-competitive.”

Champion agreed, saying she considers Davisson to be a friend and partner more than a competitor.

“When you forge relationships, you can all learn from each other,” she said.

“I’m so excited for Revival’s 10th anniversary. It’s truly an achievement in this economy, [and] I hope it encourages the entrepreneurial spirit.”

With the facility having vintage bikes, wardrobes, fabrics, furniture, and hand-drawn signs filling the space, recent University of Iowa graduate and six-month Revival employee Hannah Korpel said she felt as though she fit in with the store’s atmosphere, as well as its “family” of “shop girls.”

“The best part is the complete variety of customers we get, from teenage girls coming in with their moms to older women visiting from Fairfield to college students. They’re all very respectful about the store,” she said. “It’s a more personalized experience, from the way [Davisson] decorates the store to the clothes she chooses. It’s meant for Iowa City.”

Davisson said she has no interest in turning Revival into a franchise or opening another store. She has turned instead to another frontier: the Internet.

“It’s a challenge to offer vintage online because it’s just one piece,” said Davisson, who launched revivaliowacity.com two years ago. “But it’s a way of keeping those customers we make here as they go off on other adventures. They stay with us.”

The staff will continue to celebrate Revival’s 10th anniversary today with a sale of a special item — which people must visit the store to discover — as well as a $10 sale rack and weekly $10 item. The establishment also has personalized T-shirts and a classic jewelry special called the Capsule Collection. The promotions will conclude with a party on Sept. 28 featuring music and food; $10 gift bags full of products from community businesses will be given out.

Davisson said she believes her relaxed boutique will continue to hold its place as one of the town’s extended closet.

“Today, lots of clothes aren’t manufactured to last, so I think vintage will become more and more sought after,” she said.

“People are starting to appreciate the quality and construction. If it’s lasted this long, you know it’s good.”

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