BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for October 23, 2009
"Blood Done Sign My Name," Fuller/Fergus talks highlight weekend events at Hayti Heritage Center

New downtown boutique Magpie to alight at West Village this fall

Magpie_logo So it turns out that the pitch we made here at BCR a few weeks ago about the new Bakatsias restaurant "George" that's proposed for West Village isn't quite letter-perfect accurate in saying that the eatery would be settled cheek-by-jowl next to the West End Wine Bar.

No, any such restaurant will have as its immediate neighbor a new clothing boutique called Magpie that's currently under construction in the historic complex's Walker Warehouse.

It's the first entrepreneurial try for the husband and wife team of Tad Schwendler and Po-Ming Wong, two Watts-Hillandale residents who saw the need for a clothier that could offer a wider range of fashion choices for upwardly mobile women (25-45 year olds are their target market.)

Wong said that the few boutiques in Durham and Chapel Hill didn't always have what she was looking for -- or what she could find on trips to Atlanta, New York or San Francisco. 

The owners are hoping to have the store up and running early in the holiday season -- hopefully by Thanksgiving weekend, depending on the progress made with construction.

The couple met in the mid-1990s, and started dating a few years later. Schwendler moved to Durham in 2001 for business school, living in Old West Durham and getting married before relocating to the Washington, D.C. area.

Wong was actually recruited to Durham by Duke, where she served until last week in a key role within Duke's treasury operation. She left her position in order to pursue her dream of taking on her fashionista role full-time.

Schwendler, who works in merger & acquisition and corporate development for a Cary firm, is a Fuqua grad who, with his wife, relocated to Durham from Atlanta by way of northern Virginia, preferring the affordability, sense of community and revitalization taking place in the Bull City.

And having long held entrepreneurial dreams, both feel that downtown's finally reached the point of readiness for this new start-up.

"Obviously Brightleaf was established, but as you got more towards the city and so forth, it was kind of like not quite there,"Schwendler said. "It really feels like there's some critical mass now, and now's a good time. We're excited for the West Village development," noting its reconnection of Brightleaf Square with downtown.

"Before, we used to have to drive to Raleigh to go out to eat, or Chapel Hill," Wong added. "Now there's so many [restaurants here] now we never have to leave Durham," she said, noting the changes that she and her husband had seen in Durham since the early 2000s -- a change they'll now be a part of with their new business. "There's enough going on here we're never bored."

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Fashion has been a part-time occupation for Wong in the past, as she's sought out part-time jobs in retail stores over the years for fun.

Wong credited her time working at Ninth Street's Cozy during Schwendler's grad school days as a key exposure to the behind-the-scenes business of fashion.

"[Cozy's Deb Nickell] really taught me a lot of things," Wong told BCR. "She brought me to shows to see how to look at clothing in a different way, that wasn't like shopping for yourself."

And it showed her the virtues of opening one's own boutique. "I didn't want to work in corporate retail, but this is something you could do on your own."

Wong noted that Magpie will seek out up-and-coming designers, bringing in fashion that can't be found at other boutiques and that incorporates new ideas in clothing. She joked that she has the reputation at fashion shows for flitting about from booth to booth, checking out all of the styles and designers instead of just the "name" lines.

"The goal is to find things that are really high quality, but aren't maybe quite as expensive, because you're paying more from the product and maybe a little less for the brand name," Schwendler added. The store will range from more expensive items to more affordable, easy-to-wear items across clothing, shoe and accessory lines.

"We have a lot of little, so that not everyone in Durham's going to be running around" in the same thing, Wong said.

Wong was coy about the design of the store, noting that she wanted it to make a bit of a splash when the boutique opens. "We are making the environment of the space not just like a typical retail box," she said, "so you can come in and actually spend time in there, and feel good, and just wander. It's kind of like retail therapy."

For the husband-and-wife team, the store is a chance to engage with their new hometown in a new way.

"It's been really fun being back, and getting to know more and more people around the community," Schwendler added, noting his hope that they can get to become a part of downtown Durham's fabric.

And while it's one store for now, the couple certainly has their eye on growing the enterprise if it's successful.

"So we'll see how things go with the first store, and see if there's an opportunity to do something else," Schwendler said.

(Our friends at Durham Magazine had a chance to sit down with Schwendler and Wong shortly before BCR did; check out their coverage as well.)



"Now there's so many [restaurants here] now we never have to leave Durham," she said, noting the changes that she and her husband had seen in Durham since the early 2000s -- a change they'll now be a part of with their new business. "There's enough going on here we're never bored."

Here, here! My wife and I often find that we haven't left Durham for weeks on end... Sounds depressing when you put it that way, but actually, it's because there is so much going on here. (Written from an office park in Smithfield, Rhode Island -- but I'll be back in "the big D" anon!)

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