Women in Business
Cathy Alekna has been selling children’s clothing at her store Kid & Kaboodle in Orleans for 35 years. Her store is the kind of place where shopping for a new baby becomes a giddy celebration, and when finding the perfect holiday outfit or something that will endure for years in a family portrait, there are simply no other destinations. Christenings, first birthdays and first days of school, these are the kind of occasions Alekna’s customers have come to know Kid & Kaboodle will have the perfect outfit.
Alekna fell in love with the Cape in her early 20s and moved here shortly after. Her first job on the Cape was in retail and she considered opening her own store someday, despite the usual trepidation. Oddly, after the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy occurred in 1986, Alekna strengthened her resolve by understanding the astronauts courage left her with no excuses for not being courageous on a much safer level.
Alekna cites her place in the close-knit Orleans community as an extended family. From the local bankers who took a chance on her in the beginning, to the regular customers who clothed their children and now their grandchildren, to the many worthy charitable organizations who are always grateful to get a donation from the store they know will make their donors bid generously. But things haven’t always been as carefree as the designs that grace much of her product lines.
“I’ve seen many economic downturns over the years, and thankfully I have always been able to adjust,” she shares. “I didn’t start where I am now. It has evolved over time. In the beginning I was in a much smaller space down the road; today we have 2,700 square feet. We are now one of the largest children’s specialty shops in New England, but we started with humble beginnings. I just keep telling myself persistence pays off!”
Alekna says one of the secrets to the success of her business is the ability to adapt to changing times and 2020 put that tenet to the test. Together with her store manager Jessica McLaughlin, without whom Alekna says she couldn’t have survived, the store has prevailed and Alekna is looking forward to adding to the generations of their loyal (and well-dressed) customers.
Chelsea Hayes Dombrowski is at the beginning of her retail journey. The young entrepreneur funneled her mounting frustration for the ineffective and unsatisfying industry of swimwear fashion into a business plan for an entrepreneurship class her senior year at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. Her passionate project resonated with her parents, particularly her father who has owned his own business since he was Chelsea’s age, and they agreed to support her dream.
Together, Chelsea and her parents opened her first store, Chelsea’s Swimwear & Apparel, that features swimwear and accessories for a wide array of adult women in Yarmouth in May of 2016, the day after she graduated from college. The store was so successful, as Chelsea put her thoughtful elements of her business plan into motion, the next step lead to Main Street in Hyannis for a second location in October that would be open year round. Again, the magic touch that Chelsea brought to her store, her customers and her suppliers had the young woman looking for a larger space. In the fall of 2019, she was able to move next door and increase her retail space five-fold.
An important part of Chelsea’s original business plan involved listening to her customers and as the store rolled into the tumultuous year of 2020, her customers were looking for spacious shopping experiences and lower prices, which suggested the Hyannis location would make a great outlet store. Instead of being a satellite location to the main store in Yarmouth, Hyannis quickly became a second flagship store. “I couldn’t have done it without the huge help my mother provided,” Chelsea recalls. “In my family, we have a saying that there is ‘no one more down for the cause than Edie.’ And sure enough, she went from part time to around 70 hours a week. Staffing during the pandemic was very challenging and without her, I can’t say we would still be open.”
When asked how she developed her strong sense of business acumen at such a young age, Chelsea says, “There is a quote, ‘Never take up less space in life to make someone else feel more comfortable.’ As women, a lot of the time we minimize ourselves. Society teaches us to do it from a young age and you have to actively break those habits. Like apologizing when you don’t need to or saying, ‘I think’ when you KNOW something.”
One thing is clear: Chelsea Hayes Dombrowski knows her mind, knows her customers and knows her business.
Katherine Liatsos is also a retail clothing shop owner. But, she is a few other things as well. In addition to being a thoroughly engaging conversationalist, she also has a few professional designations that accompany her name. She is a J.D. (meaning that she has a Juris Doctorate degree, or law degree), and she also has an M.A. (a Masters degree) in psychotherapy. So why you may wonder is she spending her time in her women’s clothing and accessories store, Katherine with locations on Main Street in Osterville and at Mashpee Commons?
“I was living in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a practicing therapist and a retail store owner, and my parents who live on the Cape were getting older and I wasn’t seeing them as often as I would have liked,” she explains. Coincidently, her store in Jackson was also called Katherine, the kind of detail one suspects Katherine enjoys in its simplicity.
The bespoke merchandise that Liatsos offers at both of her locations is the kind of clothing that makes you feel special simply by wearing it. Nothing more, nothing less, just the elegant kind of effortless style women like Jackie Onassis, Princess Diana and Amal Clooney seem to embue with every outfit they wear. Liatsos’s instinct for pairing the blouses, dresses, slacks and sweaters that subtly command attention in her elegant store is part of the mystique that she exudes.
The first Cape store in Osterville opened in December 2019, really almost too late to have made an impact on that year’s holiday shopping. “I was driving down the street and I saw the sign in the window of the space saying it was available for lease,” she recalls. “So I called the number and that was that.” Despite a tumultuous 2020 for retail, the response to the store was very positive, prompting a second location in Mashpee Commons that Liatsos opened last October.
Why would a highly educated young woman as bright and interesting as Liatsos open a retail store with luxurious clothing and home accessories? Probably because she appreciates and treasures the simplicity and pleasure that can be found in high quality products. And because, while she does have a passion for helping people through her work as a psychotherapist, the painful truth is that the difficulty of establishing a practice, coupled with the inadequate compensation given to those who commit to care for the psychologically challenged in our society makes the singular pursuit of providing therapy a challenge.
Imagine a world where the seemingly disparate parts of Liatsos’s world would intersect: a boutique salon of fashion, where you could indulge in luxurious designs, and feel comfortable enough to share your innermost turmoil and trepidations. If anyone could realize such a fantasy, it would be Katherine Liatsos. At least for now, her stores are providing great retail therapy.
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