If you go
What: Urbane clothing store open house, with an art show by Mike Benninghoven and a live DJ
When: 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: 703 Lincoln Ave., Suite B101 (in Howelsen Place)
Cost: Admission is free
Steamboat Springs By Friday morning, the owners of Urbane clothing store felt like they hadn't slept in weeks.
The night before, co-owner Mel LeBlanc left the store - which opened Friday and plans to carry fashions for the 18-to-34 demographic - at 1:30 a.m. Co-owner Trent Kolste stuck around until 4 a.m., unpacking boxes so Urbane could open its doors for the first time on Black Friday.
With clothing still going on the shelves less than 12 hours later, Kolste said the late nights have been worth it, as a business dream, two years in the making has come to life. It's a goal that couldn't have been reached without the web of connections LeBlanc and Kolste have built in the past few years in Steamboat Springs, working in restaurants and retail stores to make a living.
"We had our hand in everything," Kolste said, listing everything in the store that exists because of local connections. The wooden shelves and metal clothing racks came from friends who work in those trades. Another friend did the store's graphic design work, and still another group hand-decorated Urbane's window-front mannequins. After LeBlanc's parents cooked Thanksgiving dinner for more than half a dozen of her friends, those friends worked into the night, unloading boxes of inventory.
"We were able to do it at a price we could afford because we had so many friends in town," LeBlanc said. "Trent used to tell his parents that he wasn't being a ski bum, that he was networking for a future life. It turned out to be true."
Filling a need for fashion
The idea for Urbane came about in January 2006, when LeBlanc and Kolste noticed there was a hole in Steamboat's clothing market.
"It really seemed like Steamboat was focused on boutique clothing or Wal-Mart or ski clothing," LeBlanc said. "There wasn't really any place to buy cute, affordable jeans."
LeBlanc used a college marketing background to devise a business plan and coupled it with Kolste's finance degree to identify how much money they would need for the plan to float. They went after investors, and started going to clothing shows in Las Vegas and Denver to pick out potential lines of inventory.
LeBlanc worked on a marketing survey to find out where the store's target audience was spending its money, and Urbane promoted itself through the summer with a batch of 150 pairs of black sunglasses with fluorescent-colored sides.
The store's stock of clothing, shoes and accessories includes brands such as Element, Obey, Insight, RVCA and WeSC. A pair of jeans in the store runs for $50 to $100, and a T-shirt costs $18 to $30.
"There was a real lack of clothing for people in our age group. And as far as our competition, they might only carry a couple of brands," Kolste said. "As far as I'm concerned, it's time for some new, fresh styles in town, and we want to provide them."
For the store's owners, Urbane is a creative outlet that fills a perceived need for a change in Steamboat's fashion offerings.
"We decided we would take our business degrees and really go out on a limb and use them," LeBlanc said.
Learning on the fly
In the week before Urbane opened, LeBlanc and Kolste worked until at least 1:30 a.m. each day, ironing out last-minute details and getting the store up and running.
"I didn't think things were going to take as long as they did. I thought we'd be at this stage on Wednesday, but there was no way that was going to happen," LeBlanc said, hanging clothes Friday. You might think everything in your fitting rooms is ready to go - she said, offering an example - and then you might find out there's a chemical leak and the contractors have to cut a hole in the wall to get to it. Roadblocks happen, and you have to stop at them.
"You learn so much while you're doing it. All those things that you think would be easy, just aren't," LeBlanc said. She and Kolste learned to manage their money carefully, and take all the skilled help they could get. They also learned the meaning of "skilled," as they've drawn on community support to get Urbane off the ground.
"Get someone to install your mirrors for you. We've already broken two of them," LeBlanc said. "Don't listen to your buddy when he says, 'I can install mirrors,' because he can't."
- To reach Margaret Hair, call 871-4204 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.