At Store Nico, the offerings ? and the entrepreneur ? are unique

College student's senior project: opening and running a stylish shop of her own

Whittier resident Esther Park, 23, is small in stature but driven in her need for style. "If you go shopping here, every gift shop has the same stuff," said Park, a University of Minnesota senior. Merchandise at local gift shops are "kind of made for the Midwestern mother, not the urbanite."

To satisfy her retail jones, the petite Park teamed up with a friend, local fashion designer Marisa Kiebel, 26, to open Store Nico in June. The 2431 Lyndale Ave. S. shop features contemporary art, including Park's screen prints and pillows, plus locally made clothes, modern-style home dcor and funky gifts.

Wedge resident Krista Oakes, 24, a regular shopper at the store, said she usually checks out the clothing and stationery. "I really appreciate the style a lot - we have very similar tastes," she said of Park.

Oakes said she's excited to find unique gifts and affordable clothes made by local designers. "You can't find local designers around with such reasonable prices," she said, adding she expected pricier items. "It was a nice surprise."

Creating Store Nico

Park said she learned a lot about retail from working at Patina, which has Southwest locations at 1009 Franklin Ave. W. and 5001 Bryant Ave. S. Still, getting started in business took help from family and friends.

Park said she scraped together small loans that totaled $25,000. She said she's grateful for the help, as she has no credit and has never owned a credit card.

After applying for the lease, Park said she and Kiebel made an impulsive drive to a Chicago gift show to meet vendors and buy product for the store, so the duo would have merchandise if the lease went through. Park said their first buy was intimidating.

"We didn't even know how to buy stuff [for a store]. We didn't know if we could get in," she said. "We were so scared."

But by the end, Park said she regained her composure; she almost felt cocky and very direct about what to buy.

With goods secured, Park said she and Kiebel worked hard renovating the former insurance office space, with help from friends and Kiebel's dad. They raised the ceiling and painted and decorated to suit their style.

Park said they named the store Nico at first, but because another Southwest business, Nico Plating, had the name they changed it to Store Nico. She said the name doesn't have a meaning, she just thought it looked nice - adding that it has nothing to do with the Velvet Underground singer.

In November, Kiebel left the business on good terms to pursue a teaching career, leaving Park to forge her way in the business world alone. She said she liked the creative part of owning the store, but not the business side. Kiebel still makes clothes that Store Nico sells.

Park said she likes having creative control but admits, "I went into [opening the store] knowing it would be the hardest thing I'd ever do."

Split three ways

Park said her family wasn't surprised, but they were concerned when she announced her entrepreneurial plans to open a store. She said that in the 1980s, her dad owned a gift shop Downtown and he knew how tough retail can be. "He knew it would be hard," she said, adding they ask about business performance all the time.

Park - who has no employees - said her friends are excited about the store and sometimes come by to help. Though she attends school during the day and works at Store Nico in the afternoon, Park said she decided to pick up an extra data entry job to make money.

Park said as it gotten colder, business has been really tough. "Some months, it's either pay my phone bill or buy groceries," she said, adding that she's confident business will pick up when it's warmer.

Park remains excited talking about her store. She said she used to save up her money to shop at store like hers on the East and West coasts, but no longer has to.

Supporting local fashion

Park said having local clothiers' work in the store is great because it brings in business and helps support the local designing community.

Whittier resident Abby Meyers, 24, is a Target product designer and, on the side, a fashion designer who sells her clothing creations at Store Nico. Her clothes are feminine with an urban edge, labeled Princess Warrior.

Meyers said selling her clothes there has been a great opportunity because there are so few places to do it in Minneapolis. "Minneapolis doesn't have as visible of a fashion arena as it could," she said. "It's going really well so far."

Kiebel said selling locally made clothing is tricky because there are there few places for local designers to sell here, and most merchants take 50 percent of the sale revenue. Kiebel said Park only takes 40 percent, making it easier for designers.

For Meyers, there is a downside. She said going into Park's store to pick up a check is "dangerous." "I always end up buying," Meyers said; her vice, Park's clothes and earrings.

Hours for the store are Monday-Saturday noon-7 p.m. and noon-5 p.m. on Sunday.