Friday, July 1, 2011

The Dredgers Union: Reviving Downtown's Shopping Scene

The Dredgers Union on East Fourth Street has the hip feel of Urban Outfitters, the sophistication of Banana Republic and the flair of Cleveland.

Various vignettes of apparel, accessories and home goods — what owner Danielle DeBoe calls “narrative merchandising” — greet visitors. “They’re supposed to tell a story,” she says.

It's a story about the past being the key to the present. DeBoe cites the Victorian era and the Industrial Revolution as inspirations for Dredgers’ ambiance. There’s a hint of the past within the scattered odd gifts of old-fashioned shoe polish and drawer knobs, but then I’m brought back to the future as I browse through skinny jeans with Vampire Weekend playing overhead. That fits. Dredgers is a breath of new life in downtown’s once-booming, now nearly nonexistent retail industry.

DeBoe, who owns The Dredgers Union with Sean Bilovecky, says business has been booming since the store’s soft opening June 17. “It’s just been bananas,” she says animatedly. “We didn’t have super high expectations before the soft opening. But we’ve had a tremendous surge of people coming in.”

Dredgers offers men’s, women’s and kids' apparel, as well as home items such as bedding and cooking utensils. Prices for men’s and women’s shirts range between $30 and $90, and jeans go for an average of $110. Like Urban Outfitters, Dredgers stocks an array of gift ideas, such as paper airplane pendant necklaces and globe paperweights. Some of the merchandise is surprising, from the cutesy hammers made especially for women to candles that smell like men’s cologne. The store stocks items from more than 110 vendors, including American-produced brands that are scarcely seen in the Cleveland area.

The brand that stands out is the store’s private label, designed by Bilovecky and women’s designer Dana Hardy right here in C-town. Though Dredgers' merchandise is a bit pricier, Clevelanders will feel good knowing they’re supporting their hometown. “It’s a very difficult thing for retailers to carry a ‘made in the USA’ label these days,” she says.

The women’s clothing at Dredgers is a bit more summery and bright than the men’s, but both have an urban-chic edge. “We did not want an overtly feminine store,” says DeBoe. “We wanted to create a space where both men and women would feel comfortable.”

The store’s next big thing is its grand opening on July 8, which coincides with DeBoe’s Made in the 216 event — a celebration of Cleveland-based designers. The event will be a circus-themed party with music, beer, cotton candy and about 50 Cleveland-based vendors.

DeBoe says she hopes Dredgers will encourage other retailers to set up shop downtown. “I want to keep the creative endeavors in Cleveland,” she says.

To read Colleen Smitek’s profile of Danielle DeBoe in our June issue, click here.

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