MANCHESTER — Mary Lou Baraw had heard from friends and customers of her boutique in Stowe that she needed to check out Manchester as a potential store location, and expand her business south.
Baraw found what she was looking for — a 4,700-square-foot space at 103 Depot St., as part of the Manchester Designer Outlets portfolio. The space, formerly the home of Bass Factory Outlet, is now home to Coco Goose — a women’s clothing boutique featuring denim, dresses, athleisure wear, handbags and accessories. The boutique, which opened for business on July 8, is a sister store to Green Envy, with locations in Stowe and Burlington.
“It’s probably been a thought for five years,” Baraw said of the encouragement from area customers to open here. “And one day we came down, looked at a few places, and once we came into this location, it just had great energy. We felt at home, and it seemed like if we’re going to do it, that this was the right place to do it.”
The interior of Coco Goose reminds one of a modern take on a great old apartment: comfortable without being shabby; modern and well-appointed without being pretentious.
The retail space has been reinvented with a wide-open floorplan with lots of room between racks. It’s bright, too: There’s exposed high ceilings, and lots of light from the windows and track lighting reflecting off the white painted surfaces. Yet, the clothes are hanging off metal hardware, reminiscent of urban mercantile settings. The dressing rooms are spacious, too.
Manchester Designer Outlets president Lana Hauben loves what Coco Goose has done with the place.
“They opened it up and cleared out the old cases,” she said. “It’s such a pleasurable, lovely experience.”
“We’re thrilled to have Coco Goose come in. We think [Baraw has] done a great job,” she added.
It’s the largest footprint in Baraw’s business — its nearly double her space in Stowe — and she’s made a five-year commitment to the space.
The similarities between Stowe and Manchester don’t end at mountain resort town with a core of local customers, second homeowners and destination or day-trip shoppers, Baraw noticed. They also translate to the kind of clothing those customers are looking for — “a little bit more relaxed, but still very put together.”
“So our focus here is brands. We try to focus on the brands that people are really searching for. And we try to create a selection that represents who we’re reaching out to,” Baraw said. “We’re not dressing up like they do in the city. We’re not wearing suits, but we want to look good and feel good. And feel like we look put together but not that it was so difficult.”
The store’s denim selection is “greater than anyone in New England,” with 40 premium lines in all cuts and styles, she said.
The store has 300 brands total if you drill down to every last detail, but the main focus is on about 150 brands.
“And we really do try to focus on what people are seeking and what’s most important to our customer base, which isn’t just Vermont — it does reach out to New York and Boston and Toronto and Montreal.”
Where Baraw has seen growth is in dresses and event wear. Coming out of the COVID pandemic, there’s “three years of events in one year” on the social calendar for summer and fall, and sales have been brisk, even though Baraw anticipated increased demand.
For folks who prefer online shopping, Coco Goose is also online at shopgreenenvy.com/coco-goose.
Why is the Manchester store named Coco Goose when her Stowe and Burlington stores are named Green Envy? Thereby hang multiple tales.
Baraw has an agreement to restrict her use of the Green Envy brand inside Vermont. But she also is in the process of opening a store in Providence, R.I., necessitating the invention of a new brand.
Coco, of course, could refer to fashion icon Coco Chanel. And a goose, in addition to being a rural reference, also points to mercantile and fashion — since goose down is still used to fill pillows and insulate winter jackets.
But it’s simpler than that.
“Honestly, they’re my childhood pets, Coco and Goose,” Baraw said with a smile. Coco was a hamster; Goose was an angel fish; and it was enjoyable to bring back a childhood memory to her entrepreneurial present. “It’s just a fun name.”
A walk around town also helped Baraw see that Manchester, long known for its assortment of national brand factory outlets, is evolving into a broader mix of retail — some national, some Vermont-owned and much of it woman-owned.
“I did take a tour and noticed Vermont Kitchen Supply. Smuggler’s Notch Distillery, the Northshire Bookstore. La Peche. Zippy Chicks ... There’s definitely some local people that have built up nice businesses here. And so that certainly played into my thought that this would be good,” Baraw said.
Hauben said in addition to Coco Goose, the independent and Vermont-owned tenants who are part of MDO’s portfolio include Helmholz Art Gallery, Pastime Pinball Museum, Sabi Mercantile, Depot 62, Depot Street Burgers, The Little Rooster and Coco Goose’s neighbors at Aunt Bonnie’s CBD.
For Hauben, seeing Vermont and woman-owned businesses take a larger presence in MDO’s portfolio makes her think back 39 years, to the day when she and her late husband, Ben Hauben, first opened the doors of the Polo Ralph Lauren outlet for a crowd of about 400 folks. While retail has changed dramatically since those days, it’s also presented an opportunity for entrepreneurs — many of them women — to go into business on a streetscape once dominated by national brands, she said.
Manchester Designer Outlets has itself been a woman-owned and operated business since Lana Hauben and her stepdaughter, Alissa Hauben Appel, stepped up to run the company after Ben Hauben’s passing.
”The silver lining with the retail world changing so much is opportunity to young people to try their hand in a retail Mecca — one we could never afford to give them and they could never afford to have,” Hauben said. “We are thrilled with the ‘new’ retailers, with their beautiful products, their wonderful food, their willingness to work hard to achieve success. That was what America was all about, and it’s good to see that it looks like there is a rebirth of the American work ethic. .”