Sitting in Village Coffee with Mary Vayas, I asked her how long it had been since No. 165 opened. "Two years," she said, "two years almost exactly." Then she paused as if reviewing a back calendar in her mind and gave a surprised look. "It may even be two years today."
Vayas isn't caught up in celebrating milestones. She's too busy with the day-to-day concerns of running her lifesyle and clothing store on Maplewood Avenue, No. 165 (the name is the address; get it?).
When I first wandered past No. 165 two years back, the dynamic and stylish window design, filled with funky but useful products and clothing, brought to mind Anthropologie, the successful national clothing and lifestyle retailer that got its start in my home town of Philadelphia.
Anthropologie may have just opened a store in Montclair but Maplewoodians need not make the trek. Vayas provides the same eclectic cool within walking distance of your door.
Vayas, a lifelong Maplewoodian, grew up as one of five girls on Woodland Avenue. Her mother didn't drive and they walked into Maplewood Village for everything—clothing, shoes, sundries, school supplies.
"That was my inspiration for the store," said Vayas. "We're getting that back here in Maplewood. And I think people here, more than in other towns, are trying to keep it local."
"If I had my dream, I'd open two or three stores—an old five and ten, clothing stores."
But taking on one rent was gamble enough, so Vayas made her store as eclectic as possible.
"When I orginally had the plan, it was clothing with just some accessories, maybe shoes. But then I heard about Village Belle [which opened on Baker Street at about the same time as No. 165]. I knew she was more 'tween.' I wanted to be more adult. And the store is a big space." To fill all 1,200 sf, Vayas added more lifestyle items piece by piece.
Vayas got help from Marissa Lafiosca, owner of the local interior design firm ML Interiors. But she also heeded all the feedback from her customers.
"It evolved as the customers made requests. Customers wanted storage containers. Hence, Fish's Eddy. Then candles. Then we added our own quirkiness." Vayas mentioned items like the "Peace of Cake" silicone cake mold, blow-up moose heads or Obama mints, which were a big hit last fall. "These are things people hadn't seen in Maplewood." A quick perusal of the store uncovered some other fun items, like the Woodstock 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, Jersey Girl chocolate bars and the shopping bags adorned with pictures of the first lady on a swing.
Vayas is at an advantage retailing in Maplewood Village. For 18 years, she's been helping her husband Angelo with his restaurant, The Trattoria, around the corner. She has also raised three boys in town: Aris, 23, Joe, 22, and Antonio, 14.
"I was walking in the door knowing half the town already, " Vayas said. In addition, Vayas had husband Angelo as an example. "I wanted to capture Angelo's way of doing business. Angelo has a great rapport with customers."
No. 165 is part of a wave of dynamic new retailers in downtown Maplewood, including Village Belle, Little One & Co., Perch, Shed and, now, Revolution Home. "We have the same mindset," said Vayas, "to promote the Village and get people down here to make it a shopping destination." Vayas was quick to add other longer term businesses and owners like Rosetta Weiser at Village Wine Shop. She also gave credit to Bee & Thistle, a business that has been in town for decades but that has recently stepped up its ad buys and marketing.
So, how's business?
"You know, we've really been holding our own. We thought it would be a horrific Holiday season last year but the fourth quarter was better than expected." This September and October have been a little challenging, Vayas said, but "I think we will be OK this Holiday season. People need to shop and we have loyal clientele." Vayas will soon debut an e-commerce site for No. 165 , creating another sales platform.
So what about those two or three additional shops she'd like to open? "Two of my sisters work at the store. I"d love to see one of them open her own store and be a partner in that."