Downtown Manhattan’s newest local retail store Pine & Plaid Clothing Co., located at 320 Poyntz Ave., neighbors its sister store, The Boutique. Lindsay Hufnagel owns and operates both businesses. The Boutique, having moved twice since 2010, eventually became a fixture in Manhattan’s downtown shopping strip, specializing in women’s apparel and accessories along with children’s clothing and gifts. Hufnagel recently saw the opportunity to expand her store’s merchandise and clientele.
“We had a lot of extra space over in The Boutique, and we thought we should fill it with men’s stuff,” Hufnagel says.
She decided against expanding within The Boutique’s walls, knowing that the space next door was available and did not require much remodeling. Inside Pine & Plaid, the stripped-down, minimalistic-yet-cozy feel makes it feel like a space of its own.
Pine & Plaid’s primary focus is on men’s apparel and lifestyle items. Around the store, racks of stylishly simple button-downs and flannels take the main stage, but patrons can also find earthy colognes, beard balms and candles. Though the merchandise is aimed broadly at professional men, the store’s wooden shelves and eponymous nod to an outdoorsy aesthetic give the place a rustic feel.
Pine & Plaid fills a need for men’s retail in the area, Hufnagel says, adding that men’s goods come up often in terms of local consumer interest.
“The reason it was even on the plate was that we’ve heard that people want some men’s retail downtown; there’s just a few places that cater to the men. So I hope that this will satisfy the craving for a new men’s store.”
The targeted audience for Pine & Plaid has a similar age range to The Boutique, but the styles and trends reflected in Pine & Plaid’s merchandise could appeal to young professionals and college-aged men, even high school students.
“I think the men’s store could probably go a little younger,” Hufnagel says. “I think the college guys would definitely wear probably anything that’s in here, versus The Boutique, where maybe it’s a little older. We generally target 30 to 65. But the men’s shop can definitely be—it might even be a high school student, depending on what their budget is. But I would say 18 to 65; any of those guys could probably find something in here.”
Though it is a different store that attracts a different type of customer, the core values between The Boutique and Pine & Plaid remain the same. Hufnagel says her plan for operating her businesses in the era of easy online shopping and fading downtown retail strips has not changed much since 2010. To her, it’s all about the customer experience.
“I think that people keep coming back because they trust us,” Hufnagel says. “We’ve gotten to know them and their families and the things that they like and know how to order. So that way, we have things that they like when they come in. We just get to know them, and we can service them and get them what they want.
“It seems to work pretty well so far,” Hufnagel continues. “We have a pretty good track record with being able to have the store—The Boutique—as long as we have.”
Hufnagel emphasizes offering quality products at a good price, noting that local shoppers don’t have to travel to more metropolitan areas to find upscale, special shopping experiences.
“Sometimes when they’re looking for something special, they just tend to go look out of town,” Hufnagel says. “And they might not realize that what they’re looking for is right here in town somewhere.”
Another route for consumers is online retail, a popular shopping option. In the first quarter of 2017, e-commerce made up 23% of sales in the U.S. in the area general merchandise, furniture and apparel, and accessories, according to CBRE. The rise in online shopping has produced worry over the fate of physical stores, since 79% of adults in 2017 shopped online, but Pew Research Center found that 65% of e-commerce shoppers prefer shopping in-store and online for a product. There is still appeal in shopping in a physical store.
Of course, a physical storefront in a community doesn’t always mean the business is locally owned. However, downtown shopping districts akin to Manhattan’s downtown strip along Poyntz Avenue have long attracted a local business scene; the health of arts, entertainment and other non-retail activities in downtown areas are reliant on the state of retail in that hub and vice versa. Several factors for downtown success exist, including having a clear sense of space in the area, pedestrian friendliness and a mix of businesses, according to a 2014 downtown success indicator report from the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Manhattan’s downtown district has had success here; the city redefined the Manhattan Town Center as a Community Improvement District, and the subsequent extra sales tax came forward in April 2019 to fund community development projects down the line. Though actions like this can refresh the health of a whole downtown retail hub, each business has to focus on its own prosperity.
One struggle that local businesses sometimes face is training people to think “shop local” when they shop in downtown districts, which can have a mix of local and chain retailers, but Hufnagel does not feel this problem as much; she says she thinks community members want an authentic downtown shopping environment and value the local shops, and that helps drive her business.
Rachel Carpenter, manager of Pine & Plaid, echoes the value of local retail as an employee.
“I started working when I was 15; I’ve had a few different jobs, and every job I’ve had has been [at] a local business.”
Carpenter, who also studies apparel and textiles with a marketing emphasis at Kansas State University, says she wishes to open her own business someday, and her deliberate focus on being employed at local businesses is important to her.
“It’s just always been important to me to stay in a local store and support the community locally,” Carpenter says. “I think it’s important for the whole town to have a good downtown space.”
Before transitioning over to Pine & Plaid, Carpenter worked at The Boutique. As she and Hufnagel traversed starting the new store, Carpenter gained a behind-the-scenes look at the process.
“The hands-on work that I’ve been able to do with helping to open this new store and seeing all the behind the scenes of what it takes to open a small business… it’s definitely giving me the tools for that and for any job that I’ll have in this career path,” Carpenter says.
In the microcosm of flannel and peppercorn that is Pine & Plaid, focus on the community’s interests and wants are forefront in its operators’ minds. Carpenter says even though she is still learning what all Pine & Plaid sells, she’s certain there’s something for every man in town there.
Dené Dryden is a Kansas State University student journalist and freelance writer. She currently broadcasts local news and weather as the morning news anchor for Wildcat 91.9 FM and is involved with many other organizations on campus. Dené graduates in May 2020, is happily engaged and can’t seem to function without coffee these days.