10 Years of Custard (part 1)

Posted by Tara Kirkland on

I am not even sure where to begin... but I apologize for how long and wordy it may get because it's hard to wrap 10 years of thoughts into something short...and I really want to share so many thoughts and photos, it'll be hard to condense to our normal journal size... so read on if you dare. 
(The first store was located at 108 West Taylor Street. It had multiple rooms that you could walk through.  Here's a photo from when I first started painting and assembling dress forms.)
When I was in middle school I was friends with Jennifer Meadows and she and I had this idea of opening a shop called J&T (Jennifer and Tara) where we would do makeovers for women... hair, makeup, and clothes.  I used to write customer testimonials (this is LONG before you could write reviews online) and draw "before and afters" of our customers... I would love to get my hands on some of those old drawings, I believe there are probably some still lurking somewhere at my parents house... anyway, I think that idea always stayed with me and eventually took on a life of it's own- helping people feel good about themselves by changing their outfit or finding that perfect pair of earrings, or just simply being nice. Sometimes simple changes and small details can make a huge difference. 
(I have always had stripes in my store- starting with this one!  My Dad has come down from Mars Hill, NC for EVERY SINGLE store and helped me paint, stripe and wallpaper.)
When I finally took the first steps to opening Custard I knew the type of shop I wanted to open was one where I knew my customers and my customers knew me, as well as my staff.  I wanted them to want to come by and say hi even if they weren't looking for anything, I wanted them to be able to treat shopping like therapy if they needed it... I wanted to create a more intimate environment- one where people felt comfortable to be who they really were, and have a place that was safe from judgement.  After 10 years of helping people dress for interviews, first dates, engagement photos, weddings, baby showers, dress their kids, watch people go to college, see some of the same faces come back every year on vacation, it is amazing to see how many of my customers have made lasting impressions on my life. I hope that I have succeeded in creating the environment I sought to create and that Custard, myself and my staff have had a positive influence on as many people as possible. 
(Manchester has been hanging out at work with me since the beginning.  When the store first opened so many people would come in and take their photo with him... I used to joke he was the most photographed dog in all of Savannah... These are the first fitting rooms at Custard.)
I wanted people to not only feel better about themselves or their day, but to also support local, small, eco-friendly and US made goods at the same time.  The back story of every item that comes in the shop has always been so important to me, as well as supporting others who have a similar dream to my own.  I could gush for hours on so many of our makers and suppliers, and over the course of 10 years many of these creative people who's goods fill the shop have become friends. It really does make me feel amazing when someone buys something that makes them feel great and I can then turn around and order something else from one of our awesome vendors and support their families too. There's something really special about knowing where things come from and how they came to be.  I can not thank Bo, my family, friends, and my customers enough for continuing to support this dream and goal of mine.
(Here I am in the middle of most of the clothing that was in the store for the grand opening.)
I have always really enjoyed small business and retail.  I love helping people find just the right thing. Even after all these years, I still love the Holiday season! It truly is so much fun for me to ask questions about who people are shopping for, find out a little about the person and then help pick out gifts.
After spending many years buying, building displays, personal shopping, and building relationships with vendors, I felt like the time was right to strike out on my own. Bo and I packed up and moved to Savannah, GA and Custard was born!
(Night photo of first room)
I started out in a little shop just off the corner of Whitaker and Taylor. I remember choosing this location because it was just off the beaten path enough that we would be able to spend quality time with our customers. The lease was signed in January of 2008, and I got to work!  It was a pretty scary time for me.  I remember returning from the lease signing and turning on the TV to CNN announcing we were in a recession. I was terrified.  The first buying trip I went on was nerve racking as well!  I didn't know anyone in Savannah yet, and the city is so different than the one I came from, I wasn't sure how I was going to connect with the customers, what they were really going to like, and I had NO IDEA how hot it was in Savannah!!!! But it didn't stop me from taking the risks.
(My friend Maribeth Holer designed my logo... this was our very first logo and first sign.)
(My mom is hauling in speakers for the grand opening... Bo was our DJ. Lots of friends and family came down to help with the opening, including my former LADYBOSS Carson Lucci from the Over Easy in Asheville.  Carson was my first customer and I still have the dollar she signed hanging by the checkout in the Greenville store.) 
(This jacket was the most out there piece we had in the first location and EVERYONE who came in tried it on.  I honestly don't remember who purchased it, but I really hope I see them rocking it)
(Michele (of Madame Chrysanthemum) Bethany (who used to work for the Connect but has moved out of state) and Shannon (who's also moved) all attending my opening party.  I will love this photo forever!)
(Another view of the fitting rooms)
2008 was a crazy year. The economy was in recession and suddenly houses all around the store were going into foreclosure, and sadly, the building that housed Custard was no exception.  The person who owned the building came in right before Thanksgiving and told me I had to be out by the end of December. I was shocked and very worried.  We had only been open 8 months and so much time and energy had gone in to the store... I really didn't know what to do, but it's clearly not a cliff hanger because we're still here!
The next chapter of Custard is coming up in 10 Years of Custard (Part 2) and if you made it this far- thanks so much for reading this and thanks so much for your support- because I know if you made it to the bottom of this journal entry you've got to be a fan of Custard!
If you feel inspired to write something nice about your Custard shopping experience past or present- please do- we would love to hear from you!


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