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Andy Atkinson / Ashland Tidings
Shoppers pass by an empty window display space with a "for lease" sign at Renaissance Rose on the Plaza downtown.

Renaissance Rose not going anywhere -- for now

There may be a “for lease” sign in the window of Ashland’s beloved Renaissance Rose, a Plaza mecca for fun hats, wigs, scarves, mittens, women’s fashions (men too) and Halloween accessories, but owner Ann Wilton wants customers to know the store is not closing, at least for a couple more years.

It’s surviving, but not thriving, so Wilton seeks to cut expenses by sub-leasing half the store to a compatible, non-food “business companion,” allowing Rose to show profit till the present lease runs out. It would have the fun vibe of Rocket Fizz, a chain of nostalgic candy stores, she says.

Her gross income has been cut almost in half since she bought the store in 2010 and the reasons, she says, are annual rent hikes, wildfire smoke, “horrible” parking, and competition from online sellers and other local shops that have started selling similar goods. Another factor is the inevitable flooding of Ashland Creek, which wipes out the store’s non-insurable basement retail space. Monthly rent is now $9,600, up from $7,900 when she started.

Business had trended downward over the years to where it was 5 to 12 percent off, she says, but then “the wildfire smoke was the nail in the coffin. I couldn’t handle the sudden drop of 28 to 45 percent below the previous year’s gross. We have to make $1,000 a day, all year just to break even, mainly because of rent.”

Renaissance Rose was started in 1977 by Nola Silverman and, says Wilton, with a motto of “unique and free-spirited,” has been a fun place for several generations of customers to bring their kids, try on cute hats and take selfies, then, too often, walk out.

“A lot of people say they can’t find our stuff anywhere else,” she says. “They do like to touch things and get them immediately, which you can’t do online, but what we need is loyal fans to support us, not just come in and look around. If you don’t buy, we’re done.”

Part of the shop’s charm is the “kitty condo” right at the entry, where you can adopt healthy, fixed felines, with shots, if you donate $25 to $50 for the cause and pass a questionnaire that seeks to make sure you will be a good owner. Wilton is a lifelong cat lover and rescuer and the shop has adopted out hundreds of the animals.

Renaissance Rose has a costume shop on A Street, devoted to her passion for costumes. Wilton is a clothing historian, designing costumes for many theaters — and both shops are abuzz during Halloween.

“I love it, the costumes. It’s a one-on-one experience with customers, developing rapport and spending an hour with just the right costume.”

Wilton is on her second five-year lease, with an option to take a third, if business picks up — and says she’d like to keep the A Street store going regardless.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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