Section: Features

The winds have changed for Weather Vane’s clientele

The winds have changed for Weather Vane’s clientele

Photo by Hannah Anain

by Frances Saux

The Weather Vane, Gambier’s sole clothing boutique, has stocked up for winter. Warm fabrics now fill the shop, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in October. Coats hang on the walls. Thick gloves and hats sit by the window. Fleece-lined tights — popular among students, according to store owner Jean Wyatt — are piled underneath racks of coats and sweaters. The boutique occupies a small space on Scott Lane behind the post office.

In 1975, two years after the first class of women graduated from Kenyon, Wyatt opened The Weather Vane in the basement of the Village Inn. She had graduated from a fashion merchandising college in Toledo, Ohio, and saw Kenyon’s newly co-ed campus environment as providing an opportunity to open a clothing store in Gambier. Kenyon’s female students soon became her primary customers and remained so for the first two decades of The Weather Vane’s existence.

But she said her customer base has changed in recent years. Students are no longer The Weather Vane’s primary patrons. Today, Wyatt mainly sells to an older demographic, consisting of students’ mothers on Family Weekend and the approximately 1,500 people on her mailing list.

The store has experienced the impact of an industry-wide trend among the younger demographic, according to Wyatt. Today’s college-aged women tend to favor affordable clothing of lesser quality over high-quality garments like those Wyatt stocks, a phenomenon she has seen develop over the past four decades of Kenyon students.

Her products come from about 50 clothing lines, including Montreal-based Tribal and Lanalee. Wyatt aims to offer garments that are built to last. She particularly admires French-Canadian designs for their quality. “I like expensive fabrics,” she said.

Fewer students now shop at The Weather Vane, according to Wyatt. In a Her Campus article from 2012, Elizabeth Douglass ’15 called The Weather Vane one of Gambier’s best-kept secrets, largely because most students assume they are not its intended demographic. “They don’t tend to understand what it is,” Wyatt said.

Her clothes are more expensive than those from trendier mall stores, but, Wyatt points out, they are more affordable here than they would be in a major city, where boutique owners must keep prices high due to higher rents.

She held up a dress. “This is something that would be in Anthropologie for $130, and it’s $44 here,” she said, referring to the popular upscale women’s store.

Jessica Gorovitz ’19 said she sometimes buys clothing at Anthropologie when she is home, but since arriving at Kenyon this fall has only shopped online and not yet stepped foot in The Weather Vane.

Wyatt said she would love to find a way to attract students like Gorovitz, for whom the The Weather Vane has fallen off the radar. One recent year, soon before the holidays, she slipped 30-percent-off coupons under the doors of every student residence, but nobody came in to redeem them.

But, like the clothes she sells, the relationships with her customers have lasted over time. Kenyon alumni who shopped at The Weather Vane as students or worked as her employees stop by when they’re back in Gambier.

“It’s always fun when they walk in and say, ‘Do you remember me?’” Wyatt said. During the store’s anniversary party this October, many familiar faces came to congratulate her; wine and cheese were served in a tent outside.

“This place was rocking,” Wyatt said.

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