Two vintage clothing stores in Wilmington joined forces this summer to launch a new venture that will combine each shop’s distinctive style.
Second Skin Vintage owner Karyn Oetting and Kelsey Gibbs, owner of The Wonder Shop, are preparing to open a new vintage clothing business this fall in a storefront on Kerr Avenue. Gibbs moved from her former downtown storefront during the COVID-19 pandemic while Oetting moved out of her space on Castle Street in early June.
Her lease ended after Oetting's landlord rented the space for another use, she said.
Once she knew the move was imminent, Oetting began formulating a backup plan to keep her business afloat, and Gibbs was her Plan B. The two had gotten to know each other over the years and had a long-standing working relationship, Oetting said.
Gibbs still had racks of inventory from The Wonder Shop in storage, but didn’t have time to start up the business, she said. Gibbs owns and runs Sealevel City Vegan Diner with her husband and family.
“I've been so focused on Sealevel that it was just really hard to carve out the time to get Wonder Shop back up and going,” she said, “but I didn't want to scrap it.”
Gibbs had the inventory but not the time, and Oetting had the time but didn’t want to start over by herself. So, they agreed to form a joint business.
“It was a case of neither of us could do it on our own,” Oetting said, “but together, we could do it.”
After packing up and moving out of her former storefront at 615 Castle St., Oetting got to work with Gibbs on forming the new business.
“It's not simply a matter of me absorbing The Wonder Shop into my business or vice versa. We actually had to create a new business from scratch,” she said. “That takes time, energy, lawyers, stuff like that.”
Then came the task of getting the store up and running. Since closing The Wonder Shop, Gibbs has leased a retail space two doors down from Sealevel to store the former shop’s inventory.
“It was functioning as a huge storage unit,” Oetting said. “It was a lot of physical work to get it ready.”
After about a month of clearing out the space, the store is now ready for build-out, which includes hanging shelves, building the store’s fitting rooms and adding a fresh coat of paint.
The pair plan to open the store located at 1015 S. Kerr Ave. later this fall although an exact date is still up in the air.
“I'm still really hoping that people could come start shopping for like fall clothes with us, whether that's at the beginning of September or the end of September,” Oetting said. “We are not going to miss Halloween – that's like the high holiday of vintage clothing stores.”
The two still haven’t chosen a name for the new venture, which is still operating online under Second Skin Vintage.
The new business will offer customers a similar shopping experience to Second Skin Vintage and The Wonder Shop, Oetting said. Gibbs said she hopes to focus on vintage work wear that can be worn in everyday situations, not reserved solely for special occasions.
Although a partnership between competitors might seem to be rare in the business world, things are going smoothly for Oetting and Gibbs. Their styles and personalities seem to complement each other, Gibbs said.
“She gives me structure,” Gibbs said. “I'm kind of more of fly by the seat of my pants.”
Oetting said the partnership has given her the chance to have a collaborator after nearly a decade of owning her own business.
“It's very rewarding for the first time in nine years to have a coworker, not someone who's my employee, but someone who is my absolute equal who I just sit around and bounce ideas off of,” she said. “It's really nice.”
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