‘The kindness of friends and family’: Change Boutique to reopen on Willy Street after crash

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Owner Nikki Anderson stands inside Change Boutique, set to reopen at Willy Street location Nov. 27 after car crashed into building this summer

MADISON, Wis. — After an SUV tore into the Change Boutique storefront on Williamson Street this summer, owner Nikki Anderson had more than just car fragments and a busted entryway to worry about.

She sources all of her clothing and jewelry inventory from fair trade overseas vendors. For Anderson, her business isn’t just about selling the perfect sweater: it’s a social justice initiative designed to combat fast fashion trends that often leave workers in other countries exploited and underpaid.

RELATED: Following an unexpected accident, Change reopens in temporary location

“The artisans that I source from had already been really hard hit from COVID, and so canceling orders is a really big deal,” Anderson said. When she got the call from the building landlord the morning of the crash, she knew she had to do more than just rebuild: she needed to stay open and fulfill the orders she’d placed with her vendors.

Anderson made the temporary move to Livingston Street and opened up a storefront about five days later. But the location provided a much different revenue flow than the Willy Street location, where Anderson regularly benefitted from heavy foot traffic and customers from the Willy Street Coop across the road.

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Aftermath of Aug. 2 car crash at Change Boutique

She’s lost an estimated 30% in revenue since then, revenue she hopes to recoup from her insurance company, but she could face challenges because of pandemic complications.

Her longtime customers stayed loyal, making a point to schedule trips to Livingston Street. But traffic fell to two to three customers a day while reconstruction at Willy Street continued.

“It’s the opposite of here, where there’s a lot of spur-of-the-moment foot traffic because people are out and about,” Anderson explained on Friday inside the new-old store on Willy Street. “We did okay, but we’re really anxious to be back to normal.”

And back to normal it is, with Change Boutique set to reopen on Willy Street at 11 a.m. on Saturday, November 27, nearly four months after the August 2 crash. It wouldn’t have been possible without massive community help from her family members, friends, one employee, and even customers.

“We didn’t pay for anything,” Anderson explained of the renovation labor. “It’s been the kindness of friends and family, putting in the sweat equity to get things done. The insurance was like, ‘Wait, what? You don’t even have a receipt to show us?’ I’m like, ‘No, I haven’t spent any money. We’ve just done it all ourselves.'”

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Owner Nikki Anderson stands inside Change Boutique, set to reopen at Willy Street location Nov. 27 after car crashed into building this summer

Anderson has four weeks left in the year to try and make up for lost time–and it couldn’t be a better four weeks for a store that she says is often frequented by men during the holiday season, searching for gifts for the women in their lives. She even sets up her displays with them in mind–they’re typically anxious to get in and make a selection, she says, while her year-round female customers will usually spend more time browsing.

“I couldn’t think of a better time to celebrate and show our gratitude to customers for hanging in there,” Anderson reflects. “It feels like a really, really good time of year.”

The morning she got the call from her landlord about the crash, she says she thought it was going to be a total loss. Now, she sees nothing but silver linings–like a few bricks from the old storefront, now rebuilt, that she’ll use as bases for displays.

“All my fixtures are repurposed, so I was like–‘Perfect! New raw materials to work with,” she said with a chuckle. She set a few bricks on the window display as she spoke, and stepped back. “I’m totally digging this.”

Reminders of that night remain scattered around the store. A wooden wall encircling the fitting rooms still has crash dents near the bottom where the car came to a stop halfway through the store. The SUV’s hood ornament, found in the rubble, now sits on the register counter next to her business cards.

She’s never heard from the driver, she said, and she was never told what caused the crash. But for her, it’s water under the bridge, and she’s looking for things to be thankful for–like the flooring, which she had long wanted to clean and replace, but never had the opportunity to until the forced closure.

Another silver lining: the vendors she got to meet, thanks to having a bit more free time due to the main store closure and fewer customers. She visited Teotihuacan in Mexico to meet the artisans who make some of her jewelry, a trip she reflects on with gratitude.

“That place and those people have a special place in my heart.”

Photojournalist Lance Heidt contributed to this report.