Suzi’s Boutique opens downtown


Suzi’s Boutique, located on 823 4th Ave in downtown Grinnell, is meant to be a place for working women over 30. Photo by Sofia Mendez

Clara Larson

If you were to make your way downtown eastbound on Fourth St., you would find yourself at Suzi’s Boutique, one of the newest additions to Grinnell’s local business community. Now, if you were to venture inside, you would come face to face with a vibrant display of flowing shirts in bright colors and fun patterns, bejeweled purses, jewelry for all occasions and electric candles that turn on and off with the flick of a remote.

Susan Schmidt, lifetime resident of Grinnell, opened Suzi’s Boutique on June 30 of last summer, hoping to broaden the shopping options of working women over 30 in Grinnell. “I just feel like we kind of lacked [stores] for older women,” she explained, “and I wanted to hit a little bit of the senior ladies too, the Mayflowers, because they didn’t really have anywhere to go.”

Before opening the shop, she had a strong background in human resources and customer service but almost no business experience. “However,” Schmidt said, “I’ve had lots of practice shopping!”

She has found the biggest challenges of this new field to be figuring out what other people want to buy, and setting affordable prices for everyone while still carrying certain higher-end items.

According to Schmidt, another challenge facing rural small-business owners is access to the internet. “I would say I’m probably competing more with the internet than with anything local, just because people can sit in their pajamas and order rather than come in,” she said.

Throughout her years in Grinnell, Schmidt has watched as the internet, alongside the increasing accessibility of larger stores like Walmart, has led to the decline of Grinnell’s downtown.

“When I was a kid,” she recalled, “we had a really vibrant downtown.” She described the Grinnell of her childhood, complete with multiple women’s and men’s clothing stores, a couple of shoe stores, restaurants, a few dime stores and drug stores and even a J.C. Penny’s. “A J.C. Penny’s, right across the block!” she exclaimed. “Isn’t that crazy to think of now?”

Suzi’s Boutique is built into the foundations of one of Grinnell’s old drug stores, Cunningham Drug. In fact, the boutique’s counter is that of the drug store’s old soda fountain.

“It’s cool to be in this space,” Schmidt said. “But a lot of people that have no idea … there’s people that live here that don’t remember Cunningham’s.”

She hopes that her boutique, one of a handful of clothing stores in Grinnell, can play a role in reviving Grinnell’s downtown economy. Although it may seem like the presence of other boutiques and small businesses downtown would only drive up competition, she believes that there is potential for the opposite effect. For Schmidt, collaboration between small businesses is the key to downtown Grinnell’s revival. “Rather than competing, I would like us all to work together to have a nice downtown, so that you can go here and here and around the corner and then eat, and that type of thing,” she said.

“It feels like you need something special going on to bring them here.” she added. “I do wine tasting, and that really brings people. They’re excited about that.”

She expects that even more people might be drawn back to downtown Grinnell if small-business owners were to work together to organize special downtown traditions, like staying open late every Thursday night, as they did when she was a kid.

While Schmidt doesn’t hold wine nights every week, you can stop by any day from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m..

Suzi’s Boutique, located on 823 4th Ave in downtown Grinnell, is meant to be a place for working women over 30. Photo by Sofia Mendez