It’s no secret that running a brick-and-mortar shop is tough even during the best of times. When you’re the one in charge of the buying, employees, marketing, finances, social media and every other duty that comes with running a small business, owning your own store can easily turn from a passion project into a way-more-than-full-time job. But for Saratoga’s Heidi Owen West, one store just wasn’t enough.
Owen West’s first foray into the world of retail came shortly after she graduated from college with degrees in fashion merchandising and buying and English literature, from the Fashion Institute of Technology and University at Albany, respectively. “Basically, I was traveling all over the country, living here and there, and my mom kept saying ‘Come back and we’ll open a store—there’s a gap in the market, there’s a gap in the market,’” Owen West says. “Finally, I said to her, ‘OK, I’ll give you five years; let’s do it.’ It’s been 25 years, almost 30, since then.”
In 1991, Owen West and her mother, Kay Owen, opened Lifestyles of Saratoga, a high-end, eco-friendly women’s clothing store in the storefront that’s now Jos. A. Bank. This grand opening kicked off a savvy game of retail musical chairs. Within six months, they relocated the store to the corner of Broadway and Phila Street, where it stayed for more than 15 years. Meanwhile, Owen’s gift shop, Nostalgia, on the corner of Broadway and Caroline Street, was struggling. Since business at Lifestyles was booming, Owen closed Nostalgia so the pair could move Lifestyles into the space where it is today. After Owen’s passing, Owen West continued to grow the business, all the while keeping her mom’s advice in mind about gaps in the market. In 2016, she opened Caroline + Main, a store meant to fill the void of fashion-forward clothes for younger women, and in 2019, she opened Union Hall Supply Co., Saratoga’s only casual menswear store.
A year and a half later, Owen West’s three shops are some of the most popular in town. (There’s proof: Union Hall, Lifestyles and Caroline + Main came in first, second and third, respectively, in the clothing store category of Saratoga Living’s 2020 “best of everything” reader survey.) But while the city of Saratoga was voting in droves for her stores, Owen West was trying to make sure her shops would survive the shutdown. “We quickly decided that we needed some sort of online presence,” she says. “Certainly, we’re a brick-and-mortar experience, but I wanted to be able to give that same experience online to any of my customers who may not be able to get here. I’m hearing that a lot: ‘I miss coming up and buying my wardrobe with you.’”
It’s that customer dedication that helped Owen West, who is also the vice president of the Saratoga Springs Downtown Business Association, get through the darkest days of lockdown. “For me, the biggest takeaway is that we are a strong community,” she says. “Saratogians have come out for their small businesses in significant ways, and they still are. And honestly, it has made all the difference just to have the faith in that.”
The ever-pivoting Owen West admits she has plans for her stores’ futures, but remains coy on the details. “I’ve always got some things I’m working on, things up my sleeve,” she says. “I get bored, so I like to just keep figuring it out and finding new things.” And should she come across another gap in the market? Well, you know how that story will end.