PopShop Style on Cedar Street in Dobbs Ferry is unique in the area for making trendy clothing affordable. But its genesis is as unique as its clothing; owner Sarah Milano took her shopping-event service, beta-tested it in Irvington with a pop-up shop, and then opened a permanent boutique in 2014.
“I was working in television production for a few years,” says Milano, who grew up in Irvington. After some time, she decided to switch gears. “I went to Syracuse University, majoring in television, radio, and film, but I’ve always enjoyed retail and fashion. When I was brainstorming ideas of what to do next, it just kind of came to me,” she explains.
After leaving her job in media at the end of June 2013, Milano launched her pop-up shop in August. She began to sell jewelry, clothing, and accessories at events and colleges. However, she found herself with leftover inventory and clients who were eager to buy.
“I found a very small space in Irvington, where the owner was willing to do a month-to-month [lease],” says Milano, and the first iteration of a brick-and-mortar PopShop was born. After testing the market, and finding it responsive, Milano found a larger spot in Dobbs Ferry, opening permanently in January of 2014. “Having the store in Irvington made me realize there was a need for clothes like this,” she notes.
Milano originally intended to cater mostly to young women with PopShop Style, but the store’s customers cover a wide range. “When I originally started, I was thinking high school to early twenties, maybe early thirties. But the Irvington store was right across from the Main Street School. Girls would come in, but nothing fit them.” Milano expanded the inventory to include brands that could fit younger buyers. “The demographic is all over the place,” she adds. “Women in their 50s and 60s are coming in; but young women are buying, too.”
PopShop also has a foot in the digital world; Milano launched an e-commerce site roughly six months into the Dobbs Ferry location. But, Milano says that the majority of her business is still done in the boutique — which, perhaps surprisingly, matches a national trend. Despite the ease of online shopping, and the plethora of digital stores, brick-and-mortar stores, including boutiques like PopShop, are still the primary way people buy clothes. According to the National Retail Federation, in 2017, all but one of the top 10 highest-performing stores are all brick-and-mortar.
The secret? According to Milano, smaller boutiques like hers offer a more curated selection. “Online, it’s hard to compete with these bigger sites,” says Milano, referring to websites such as Forever21 and Nordstrom. “But in person, we have great customer service. And I hand-pick every item. A few years ago, I went to the wholesale district in LA. I established myself with a bunch of brands; they update their websites daily with new merchandise.”
However, that doesn’t mean that everything is smooth sailing for Milano. “It’s been doing well, but it hasn’t grown as much as I would’ve liked it to.” Though the towns along the Hudson River have plenty of restaurants and a bustling downtown, there is a lack of retail.
“It’s positive, because I’m the only store here,” notes Milano, “but I’m not sure if this is the best location for the store. Retail has changed immensely, and I’m still trying to figure it out. Everything is changing, even from four years ago to now.”
“People like going to stores, I like going to stores,” she continued. “I’m trying to figure out how I can be unique and expand. I’m at a crossroads.”