Words by Molly Hays
Photography by Jacklyn Greenberg
Many a woman working from home soon finds her professional life elbowing in on her dining room. Rare, though, is the entrepreneur that converts her dining room into a retail space, sets regular business hours, and opens up her home to the public. Meet Helen Nurse, founder and proprietress of New York’s TracyChambers Vintage: determined, creative, and—yes—rare.
In early 2012, Nurse spied a market gap in affordable vintage clothing and so set out to rent a storefront, only to learn that rents in her Brooklyn neighborhood were sky-high. Beyond-reach sky-high. Most aspiring entrepreneurs would have shelved their idea as unfeasible and moved on. But not Helen. She redoubled her efforts, revisited her options, and arrived at an elegant, if unconventional, solution.
In March of that year, she opened a vintage clothing boutique very close to home. In her home, actually.
Helen credits her grandmother with her lifelong love of vintage. “My grandmother didn’t have very much money; she had just a few things. But the quality of her clothing was amazing. Every time she went out, she looked impeccable.”
Fast forward a few decades, and here is Helen Nurse, mom to three young kids, former Event Planner, fashion-aficionado, and enterprising eye which sees both the value in that storied craftsmanship, and the demand for vintage that fits Everywoman. “I choose vintage based on real women’s bodies,” she explains, an exercise in editorial purchasing that yields styles women can actually wear.
She started small, testing the waters, selling her collection at street fairs on weekends. The response was good, but with young children in tow, ages 3, 2 and 1, the hours and impact weren’t worth it. The seed, however, had been sown. And the concept, proven.
And so, caught between prohibitive rents and family demands, Nurse paved herself a third way. Noting how many brownstones in her neighborhood already sported ground floor businesses, she pitched the idea of transforming their little-used, street-level dining room into retail space. Her executive board—a.k.a., her family—assented. TracyChambers Vintage, named after Diana Ross’s enterprising, ambitious, impeccably dressed character in Mahogany, was off and running.
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