Westerlind had been open only a few days when the eponymous owner and designer, Andrea Westerlind, talked to Main Street Magazine in the retail space that was formerly Saperstein’s at the corner of Dutchess Avenue and Main Street in Millerton, NY. It was a rainy, Friday afternoon and masked shoppers dropped in to look at the goods ranging from lifetime guarantee French rubber boots to colorful summer Birkenstock sandals.
How did you decide to open a store in Millerton, especially now that retail is so fragile?
We started with a pop-up store in Millerton at the suggestion of a friend two years ago. I met Fred Gold, who used to sell technical fabrics in New York, through the industry and he’s the reason I came up here and discovered the area. He and his wife, Amy, have since become great friends and advisors to me – kind of like surrogate US parents. The small store was immediately and surprisingly successful, and then we followed with permanent store at the end of Main Street and Route 22. Our conversion rate, that is customers who come into the store and buy something, was higher than our New York City location. Just today, Friday, we’ve already done more business than on a Saturday in Soho. We knew Millerton was the perfect retail cross roads for our brand.
In June, through friends, we were put in touch with James Hendrick, who had purchased the store in 2018 from Lou Saperstein. He had already changed the façade and put in these beautiful, huge windows and retail is one of the few permitted uses of this space. We realized that the downstairs level would be large enough to accommodate our wholesale business and we would still have 6,000 square feet of retail at street level. There was even a conveyor belt in the basement. Most importantly we wanted to live in a rural setting, in the natural world. It was a lifestyle and a business decision made partly because of Covid. It happened quickly and we opened here a week after we closed on the property. Ken McLaughlin, the village building inspector, was very helpful and even gave me his cell phone number to call with any questions.
Have you met Lou Saperstein?
We were introduced and he told me all about the ins and outs of the building. We discussed carrying some of the same brands that his store sold and we will be adding Carhartt merchandise. We also intend to put the Saperstein name back on the front of the store. He’s a wonderful guy.
How did you get from Sweden to Millerton?
I’m the third generation of a Swedish design family. I grew up in the fashion business in Sweden and learned all about fabrics, draping, production, distribution, and sourcing. I came to the United States to study at Parsons in New York City in 2006. In 2007 I introduced the Fjallraven Kanken backpack to the US market and made wearing a backpack in the city fashionable. In 2008, another tough time for retail, I opened my first store on Mott Street. Nobody was opening stores then. I sold that location and then opened a store on Spring Street in Soho in 2010 under my own name. It was a big step, naming a business after yourself. We had the incredible good fortune to have Geoff McFetridge design our distinctive fox bear logo and be a very supportive mentor/investor. Westerlind made it cool to wear outdoor gear and hiking boots in the city. Simultaneously we established a wholesale business with exclusive distribution agreements with the best international brands in outdoor wear like Vuarnet and Armor Lux and set up relationships with retailers like J. Crew, Nordstrom, and Barneys.
Next we opened a store in Powder Mountain, Utah, in 2015, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in 2017, a new store on Mott Street in New York in 2018, and Denver in 2019. Our emphasis has always been on high quality, functional merchandize that is, at the same time, fashionable. And I just started designing my own line of clothing for our stores like this jumpsuit and a travel suit for women with 4-way stretch that will take you from plane to office meetings. Vogue magazine has featured the felt hat that I designed. GQ magazine has dubbed Westerlind the most stylish outdoor store in America and “impossibly cool.”
Personally we have moved our lives from Brooklyn to here. You don’t have to be in New York to have a business and here I can ski, hike, and golf. We will be building a studio at the back of the store so we can do virtual appearances at trade shows. We have shut down our Queens warehouse and relocated everything here including key staff, but we will be actively looking for more employees.
What are your best sellers?
Right now we’re selling lots of Birkenstock sandals, climbing technical pants, jumpsuits, and sunglasses. We carry over a 100 brands that I’ve discovered in my travels. Every country has something really cool and unique that you don’t find in stores here. We have Swedish linen tablecloths, Japanese recycled denim rugs, and that foldable camping chair you’re sitting in, wool sweaters from Norway, lifetime rubber boots from France, and hiking boots. We try to have something available at many price points. Just for fun, we have these small camping items like waterproof matches and kerosene lamps. And we’re always trying new things. A German popup tent is coming next.
Do you feel you’ve hit the market exactly right with the combination of dress-down all the time, working remotely, and wanting to be outside?
Yes, very much so. Traditionally, outdoor clothing does well in slow economic times. People prioritize differently, and look to spend on life enhancing products like outdoor gear. I think now, we have both uncertainty in the economy and the social distancing/change in lifestyle working in our favor. Selling products that make people more comfortable and have more fun outside, on top of looking great, is a good feeling.
How important are Pinterest and Instagram to your business?
It’s hard to say exactly how important all the different social media platforms are, but they do help us spread the message and reach new people. I think, in our case, all the little streams lead to a big river. Word-of-mouth is one of our best marketing tools. Everyone is looking for the cutest outdoor gear. When they see friends wearing it, they ask where to get it. That’s how we generate most of our new customers.
Are you contemplating closing any of your other stores?
We’re not closing any stores. All of our landlords have been very understanding and accommodating, allowing us to continue operations at a limited capacity until the consumers are safe and ready to return to physical locations.
What plans do you have for the store?
We’re still getting settled in, but we have plans to add gallery space, and maybe have a small grocery store with supplies that people need and prepared food, like sandwiches to go. We have the space to add sporting equipment, although that is not our focus. Our full focus for the foreseeable future is to make our Millerton store into the best outdoor lifestyle center on the East Coast, full of discovery, knowledge, and style!
And what about the ping-pong table in the window?
I do love to play ping-pong and I’ll play with any customer who wants to. Also, if you manage to beat me, I’ll give you 10% off your purchase. •
To learn more, you can visit them at 41 Main Street in Millerton or online at www.westerlindoutdoor.com.