The Clothes Tree
ADDRESS: 204 SW Madison Avenue, Corvallis, OR 97333
PHONE NUMBER: 541-752-5518
OWNER: Nicole Nystrom
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 50
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 20
WHAT THEY SELL: Women’s clothing and cosmetics
WHY YOU SHOULD GO: From casual wear to evening gowns, The Clothes Tree offers high-quality, stylish clothing – and the well-trained sales staff are eager to help you find just what you’re looking for.
The Clothes Tree is celebrating its 50th year in business, and there are good reasons why. Over the years, Clothes Tree owners, Margie Vaughan, and her daughter, Mardi Bilsland, have created a popular, well-respected retail store that serves women of all ages. Just last month, they passed the baton to Nicole Nystrom, who brings both youthful energy and experience “growing up” as a Clothes Tree shopper and employee. As the new owner, Nicole has made a commitment to carry on the tradition of excellence established by Margie and Mardi.
When and why did you decide to start your business? (Margie) I was working at Lipman’s department store [Lipman & Wolfe] at the corner of Madison and 4th where the Book Bin is now. When I found out they were going to do all the buying from Portland, the store manager and my husband and I decided to open our own store. We contacted Bob Wilson, a builder in town, and he bought the bank building at the corner of Madison and 2nd. We hired architects from Seattle and Corvallis to design the store. We had two young daughters when we opened The Clothes Tree in 1963, and we eventually bought out Bob Wilson. o it became a family business. During the past 50 years, we’ve had five different locations throughout Oregon. We decided to downsize during the past five years, so we closed the other stores. Our downtown Corvallis store has always been the main store, since it was our first.
(Mardi) I started working at The Clothes Tree when I was 15 years old. I attended OSU and was going to become a teacher, but the store needed me. So I’ve been working here ever since. I purchased the building about 10 years ago.
(Nicole) I grew up in Monroe, but Corvallis was where we came to do our shopping. I started working at The Clothes Tree when I was in college at OSU. After graduating with a degree in Merchandising Management, I got an internship at Nordstrom in Portland, and I worked at Nordstrom from 2007 until this year. My dream has always been to own The Clothes Tree. I became the owner on May 1st. My parents each have their own business, so I grew up knowing what it was like to own a business.
Tell us more about your products. What are your specialties? (Mardi) We carry everything in women’s wear from casual to special occasion to business wear and accessories. In terms of our clientele, we serve women of all ages, from high school students to women in their 80s. It’s challenging!
(Margie) We’ve literally grown up with our customers. Some of our customers shopped with me at Lipman’s.
(Nicole) As a buyer, you don’t really think about yourself and what you like, but what a particular person would like. Making our customers feel good is most rewarding. We’ll be bringing some new brands to the store. In terms of specialties, our cosmetic lines cater to a large age group.
What does being featured as the Local Business of the Week mean to you? (Mardi) It’s an acknowledgement that we’ve done our job well, that we’re invested in the community.
Do you fill an unusual niche? Why should people patronize your business? (Nicole) Our cosmetics are a great reason to come in. (Mardi) It took about a year to get Clinique set up. It’s a very large cosmetic company, and they have requirements. They’re very selective; they want to be sure you’re putting the cosmetics in a good location and that you can staff the product line adequately with trained employees.
(Nicole) We also have great customer service, and we can special order items. Mardi and her mom have created special relationships with our clothing vendors.
What challenges have you faced as independent local business owners? (Mardi) It’s challenging when there are some vendors you’re interested in, but they only show in New York and other distant places. It’s also a challenge to get a flow of merchandise on a consistent basis. Very few vendors carry the quantity they used to.
What do you feel is the impact of local independent businesses on Corvallis, and what does the future look like for the local independents? (Mardi) Local independent businesses support the community since more dollars stay right here.
(Margie) When you’re from Corvallis and your customers are from Corvallis, it’s like a family.
(Mardi) The future looks great for local independents—especially for those in downtown Corvallis. There are a lot of young people buying downtown businesses and opening restaurants.
What do you enjoy most about owning a local independent business in Corvallis? (Nicole) I love all the great things going on downtown—the Saturday Farmers’ Market, the hotel and museum that are planned, and the fact that Oregon State is growing and more young people are coming in.
(Mardi) I like being my own boss!
(Margie) It’s like having another child.
(Nicole) I know I can’t run the business alone, so I have a team working with me. When you’re in retail, you need to be a “people” person.
What community organizations do you support? (Mardi) It has varied over the years. We’ve always supported the Old Mill Center, the Good Samaritan Hospital Foundation, and the Boys and Girls Club. We also belong to the DCA and CIBA.
Have you taken steps to increase the sustainability of your business—environmentally, socially, and economically? (Nicole) I just had a lighting contractor come in, and we’re getting new lighting, as well as a new air conditioning and heating system. We also recycle a lot.
(Mardi) We’ve given prom dresses away and clothes for low-income women who are re-entering the work force.
(Margie) We gave all our lingerie to Vina Moses when we closed our store on Circle Blvd., and we’ve always given a lot to the Humane Society.
(Mardi) We’re hoping the store will be here another 50 years! Nicole is young enough to grow it—and young people bring different skills. Nicole brings experience from Nordstrom.
(Margie) We’re excited to have Nicole here, carrying on the business that we started.
(Interview and article by Annette Mills – June 9, 2013)
The Local Business of the Week program is designed to help the Corvallis community identify our locally-owned independent businesses by featuring one business each week. The program is part of the Buy Local First campaign co-sponsored by the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition and the Corvallis Independent Business Alliance.