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WATCH NOW: Petersburg Pickers reinvented: A lesson in surviving trend changes and the pandemic

WATCH NOW: Petersburg Pickers reinvented: A lesson in surviving trend changes and the pandemic

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Kimberly Ann Calos, owner of Petersburg Pickers, is marking her 30th year as a small business retailer with yet another move and business reinvention.

This picker is getting pickier.

Calos won’t take on any more big furniture or estate sales as she did in the past.

She will focus on distinctive statement pieces, designer clothing, jewelry, accessories and home décor — items that people can put into a “normal size vehicle.”

“Like everything, life is a circle,” Calos said. “I am back to where I was in 1990 with the same pair of cowboys boots.”

Her snug-fit, snakeskin boots that go up to her knees have carried her through eight moves, seven name changes and countless trends.

“I will end up basically back where I began, perched on the corner of a downtown shopping district under revival. And, as I did when I relocated to Petersburg [in 2005], I will live above my new shop, just as my grandparents lived above their restaurant in Hopewell.”

Calos is moving from a factory building on the outskirts of Petersburg back to Old Towne Petersburg (where she had two locations in years past) into a newly renovated store at the corner of North Sycamore and Washington streets.

With a new focus on smaller, distinctive items, she is downsizing from 7,000 square feet to 2,200 square feet.

“Days before the coronavirus outbreak, I had agreed to move my business to a better location, something I have often done, in response to ever changing retail trends,” Calos said.

She says she is fortunate as a small business owner to do well during the pandemic. “Not only have I managed to stay afloat without any loans or grants — by deferring payments and lowering minimums due — I have been spared the agony faced by many of my peers who are unable to operate.”

Calos transformed her business model at the beginning of the outbreak into online shopping only — something she never offered before — with curbside pickup. She plans to continue the online model along with in-store social distancing.

***

Joe Battison, her landlord at the former Seward luggage factory building and her new location in the historic district — a former drugstore for most of its existence — said her move will be good for the downtown area.

“She draws a lot of people from all over the place,” he said. “Being right on the corner is the entrance to downtown.”

Battison bought the building — “a big box of stucco” — and two attached structures in 2008. But his plans to renovate them were mothballed when the financial crisis hit the same year.

Renovations began in earnest in 2014 with apartments in the middle building finished first. Each of the 15 units, all with heart pine floors, is unique.

Empty store fronts still mar that end of North Sycamore Street with most revitalizations occurring at the bottom of the hill, along Bank Street and ancillary streets.

“People are afraid to come up Sycamore,” he said. “When Kimberly Ann opens, a lot of people will come up the block.”

Visitors can’t miss the now bright red and black storefront with gold Petersburg Pickers signage and huge windows. “When strangers reach that corner and see something very vibrant, they will feel much more comfortable turning the corner,” Battison said.

“Kimberly Ann will be a big boost to the downtown market,” he said.

“We welcome her,” said Alain Joyaux, who lives with wife Aimee in a building three or four doors down the street. “We need development on this end of the hill.”

***

Once an antiques and collectibles retailer, Calos saw her business surge in the early to mid-2000s.

She hired as many as five full-time employees. But that market, buoyed by Great Depression-era babies, has steadily declined as the number of collectors dwindled.

Younger generations, especially apartment dwellers, are more interested in new, sleek furniture, not the sometimes bulky or ornate items of the past, she says.

Even so, she still likes unique pieces and is banking that others do, too.

“Less is best, but you need good stuff,” Calos said.

“I have always liked unusual things. I have always been willing, ready and able to change. I get bored easily, but I like nice things.”

Despite the trend toward downsizing and minimalizing, people of all generations like statement pieces, she says.

“What’s left is the really good, cool stuff,” Calos said, adding that she doesn’t need closets full of clothes anymore, because she can wear the basics and change her wardrobe with a pop of jewelry or an artisan jacket.

Caught up personally in the downsizing trend, Calos sold her house in the historic district a year ago and moved temporarily into a condo before renting living space a few months ago above her new store.

She has shed belongings as well, including 10 pairs of boots. “I could get rid of five more, which would leave me with three,” including the knee-high cowboy boots, which she has resoled umpteen times.

She’s reduced the number of employees to one — herself — and even her herd of fiberglass goats, her store’s mascots, from nine to four. When the goats were out, the store was open.

The old slogan was “We buy anything a goat would eat.” Now it’s “We buy most anything a picky goat would eat.”

“I don’t want our goats to get overweight,” she said. “This is a very calculated move.”

Calos has survived many business storms due to her ability to “quickly react, evaluate, adjust, move forward and, luckily, thrive,” she said.

The declining market was the first reason for the latest iteration. “Secondly, I have surpassed the ripe old age of 60 and wanted to ensure I could continue to earn a living without being overwhelmed with too much space to fill.”

Although her old location was a destination, it was in an isolated area that worked well for weekly events, but not for daily retail, Calos says. Besides, in a place that large, she always felt like she was yelling at her customers.

“Lastly, I couldn’t stand seeing a beautifully renovated space, directly under my apartment, on the corner of the entrance to Petersburg’s downtown … sitting empty any longer.”

***

W.H. Goodwyn III says he and his wife, Mary, look forward to shopping in Calos’ new store.

Long-time customers from Waverly, the Goodwyns have bought oriental rugs, ceramic dogs, solid wood furniture and jewelry from Calos.

“Kimberly Ann has had a lot of interesting things over the years and we are always shocked at the difference in prices [lower] from other stores,” said Goodwyn, a retired school superintendent.

Similar stores often have the same piece of furniture sitting in the same place for 20 some years, he said.

“Kimberly Ann always moves stuff around, so it looks brand new. She restages to give people an idea of what it could look like in their homes,” Goodwyn said.

“That girl works herself silly; she can’t sit still for five minutes,” he said. “She’s vivacious and tries to speak with everyone who comes into her store.”

When the Goodwyns started collecting 60 years ago, they thought they were buying investments — and their collection did increase in value for awhile, he said.

“Newer generations don’t want anything that’s old … We live in a paper plate generation.”

Even so, most people will collect small objects, Goodwyn said, adding that Calos has tapped into a new trend by switching to more selective, better quality items.

“She keeps reinventing herself,” he said.

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