DOVER — With mannequins draped in eye-catching outfits ripped from 1950s print advertisements, Tina’s Timeless Threads on West Loockerman Street has always stood out from other retail shops in downtown Dover.
But with a HartBeat of Main Street grant in hand to weather the pandemic, Tina Hudson-Beamer can say her vintage boutique was one of a handful throughout the country to land one of the rare grants. The shop is one of 67 small businesses — and the only one in Delaware — to win the national grant.
“Throughout the pandemic, I just kept moving and applying to whatever programs are out there, and ultimately, we were awarded this one,” Hudson-Beamer told Delaware Business Times. “We’ve had tremendous support and built a loyal following in Dover. But the foot traffic is not what it once was, so we’re hoping this will help with our plans for sales and online shopping.”
She plans to use the grant to improve her point-of-sale system to include inventory and to develop her own website. Tina’s Timeless Threads currently sells through several third-party e-commerce sites.
When the pandemic hit, Hudson-Beamer said she relied on Facebook and Instagram to sell items. But she said those social media platforms were not really intended to sell merchandise, and building her own website takes time and money not easily available when fighting for survival.
Many boutique retail stores on Main Streets and downtown corridors face mountainous challenges during the pandemic, as the events that draw large crowds have either been canceled or reimagined to a smaller scale. Meanwhile, shop owners have to contend with overhead costs for brick-and-mortar locations and shoring up their online presence.
To help businesses in accredited Main Street communities in Delaware, Main Street America partnered up with insurance company The Hartford on the grant program to fund solutions that help small business owners adapt to the pandemic and continue work to revitalize historic downtown commercial districts.
HartBeat of Main Street grants ranged between $5,000 to $15,000 per award. Hudson-Beamer declined to comment on the grant amount for her shop, but said that it was in the middle of that range.
On June 1, 2019, Hudson-Beamer opened Tina’s Timeless Threads as a way to celebrate unique fashions and accessories in Delaware. Vintage clothing always had a space in her wardrobe, as Hudson-Beamer said she wasn’t one to focus on the trends.
“My style was always rooted in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and over time, I realized there wasn’t really a place where you could go for this, unless you’re shopping in thrift stores or the Vintage Underground in Rehoboth,” Hudson-Beamer said. “This is really for people looking for something different, out of the box.”
In the beginning, Tina’s Timeless Threads started as a pop-up shop and sold pieces from Hudson-Beamer’s own collection. But after three months, she signed a lease for 115 W. Loockerman St. and the business has been growing since.
“In the beginning we hit the Goodwill and Salvation Army, because you can find some true vintage pieces, but now it’s estate sales and wholesalers,” she said. “I’m also getting calls and messages from all over from people asking if I’m interested in some older pieces.”
On Tina’s Timeless Thread’s one-year anniversary, the state entered into Phase 1 of its reopening plan, and Hudson-Beamer opened the doors again. Looking to the future, she said people have a greater appreciation for small retailers now, and thinks there’s still a place in the market for Main Street stores.
“It’s been an interesting year, and I want to keep a positive outlook on this,” she said. “I think people feel a lot more comfortable shopping there than big box stores these days. We pay more attention. Plus, there’s not a lot of vintage clothing stores around, and we still get customers from places like Philadelphia, Maryland, and Wilmington.”
By Katie Tabeling