If it were any other year, Tracy Martin of The Ruby Slipper would be off surfing somewhere in Mexico right now.
Instead, she came across an idyllic second location for her vintage shop and put her savings from the fall into an address on St. Anne’s Road.
What happened next was even more unexpected.
Martin found her regular clients had followed her to the new shop, and business lagged at her flagship store on Sargent Avenue. Realizing she was better off saving the expense of two full-time employees and rent at another location, she moved her business into the larger space in St. Vital.
“It’s way bigger and we get lots of great sunlight, when there is sunlight,” says Martin, gesturing to the large windows after sundown on a gloomy winter’s day.
And “it’s more visible being in a high-traffic area.”
While the specs of the shop are arguably better (larger, less cluttered space; better curb appeal; less hassle parking), the new location’s appeal is what’s up for debate.
Martin accurately describes The Ruby Slipper’s former location as “a little obscure,” though she had the fortune of being near the offices used for most film and television productions in the city.
Plus, being between the Exchange District and Polo Park allowed it to be a multi-destination trip for commuters.
St. Vital doesn’t exactly have the same multitude of attractions; however, Martin has seen a rise in sales since opening the new location in November.
“There’s just as many funky people out here, amazingly. A lot of lovable weirdos,” she says.
What Martin loves most about her job is that she gets to meet these lovable weirdos, her customers.
“You get to meet so many interesting Winnipeg personalities,” she says.
She sees people regularly come in from the “trangendered community,” “crossdressers,” “band freaks.” “The very bohemian crowd.”
Of course, this is exactly who Martin is hoping to attract to her store.
The Ruby Slipper is absolutely chock-full of unique clothing and accessories. Most of the items would be completely appropriate on a frontman or frontwoman (trangendered or not) onstage.
Highlights are her Margot Tenenbaum-esque fur coat collection, and a well edited though heaping shoe display.
What likely makes The Ruby Slipper connect with people is the same reason that Martin can get away with affectionately calling her customers “weirdos.”
She’s allowed to call them that because of the in-group rule: she is one of them.
Martin’s uniform is bold vintage. When I meet her, she is wearing a bright neon print dress in the dead of winter, and loud costume jewelry.
She says her store does “trendy, quirky, wild (and) interesting,” and Martin is all of these. What originally drew her to start her own shop was a storied career in retail, plus a strong desire to work for her self.
“If you’re a bit of a shit disturber like I am, then working for people doesn’t always work out,” she explains. “I don’t think it has as much to do with style as being an entrepreneur… We don’t do it for the money, we do it because it’s interesting.”
Though, Martin was also led to generate extra income because of lingering student debt.
She went back to university to get a history degree – helpful when dealing with period clothing and accessories.
What a lot of people still don’t know about The Ruby Slipper is that it deals chiefly with consignment: people bring in clothes they are ready to part with and receive fifty-percent of the sale.
Martin finds many of her best customers are also her clients, or vice versa. They can even work out trades on purchases so money doesn’t have to exchange hands.
She also frequents estate sales to acquire items and has found Winnipeggers to be a gold mine for expanding her collection.
“Winnipeggers are just horrible hoarders – horrible in a good way for me of course.”
The Ruby Slipper is now located at 370 St. Anne’s Rd. It opens at 11 a.m. everyday except Sundays when it opens at 12 p.m. Visit The Ruby Slipper Vintage Shoppe page on Facebook or call 204-257-3949 for more information.
Brenlee Coates is a writer and costume assistant on movies. She has a salacious appetite for the arts, fashion magazines, and food. Sawry.