Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Most Likely to Succeed Entrepreneurs Jully, Derek and Vynsie Law reveal the secret for the success of We Are 1976: Be predictably unpredictable. BY PATRICK MICHELS PHOTO BY MARK GRAHAM
The folks behind We Are 1976 were pretty big news when they first opened their gift shop/jewelry boutique/comic store/art studio in a mixed-use space at the end of the new development at 1902 N. Henderson Ave. With cool Asian imports and household trinkets from local designers, and an easy-going, inviting feel to their shop, Vynsie, Jully and Derek Law made a good case for being voted Dallas Most Likely to Succeed.
One year later, the trios going as strong as ever, and if theyve stumbled onto any one formula for success along the way, its this: Dont rely on some old formula to run your shop. What theyve builta local landmark, a store thats always stocked with fresh surprises, a community of art lovers geeking out on elegant designisnt the kind of place that comes with an instruction book.
Vynsie says theyd been talking about opening a shop just like this for a while. It was just something that we talked about casually for a really long time. In the fall of 2008, we just were like, Lets do it, Vynsie says. Each was in between jobsor at least didnt have a job theyd mind walking away from. Vynsie and Dereks dad, an adventurous businessman who made the most of his entrepreneurial urges after immigrating from Hong Kong, helped give them the kick they needed. Hes done a lot of different careers, and hes like, You guys just need to take a chance, Vynsie recalls.
Shelves and tables are constantly migrating across the store and back, and nothing stays in stock for long. Its hard work to maintain the DIY flair and unpredictability the shops become known forand that invites repeat visits from their devoted regularsbut Vynsie says it suits them. Because the inventorys always changing, were kind of schizophrenic too, she says. We want to make sure every time you come in its a different experience, because it is a small shop. We want people just to have fun in here, because we want to have fun while were working.
Part of that balancing act between work and play has meant each of the co-owners has had to figure out which part of the business they do best. It was an ugly process for a while, Vynsie says, but eventually she settled her role buying the jewelry and handmade goods, and doing the in-house design work for their website and events. Her brother Derek takes care of finding new books and imports, and his ex-wife Jully buys their collectible vinyl and handles the paperwork it takes to run the business. Everybody has their own little role. Its not like a handbook, Vynsie says. We just fell into it.
One of the surprising things is how much Dallas and the neighborhood has been so supportive, Vynsie says. We get a lot of people who come in and theyre like, Weve been wanting a store like this. The shops become a cultural hub for people who love all things hip, retro, whimsical and handmade. If youre into KidRobot, giant knitting, re-purposed record players or starting your own T-shirt brand, youll be right at home in We Are 1976.
When we started, we wanted to focus a lot on Dallas designers and artists, Vynsie says. Now they try to make sure around 30 percent of their stock comes from local artists and designers. We didnt know how much we could actually do. Thats been a good surprise, she says.
With a bright, airy space and a fridge stocked with a few favorite Japanese drinks (Pocari Sweat tastes even better than it sounds), its the kind of place you want to hang around and exploreand the shops second life as a gathering place, with art gallery nights and workshops in things like paper marbling and letterpress, has become more and more vital to its identity.
The shops already hosted seven open houses this year, drawing crowds that line up outside the door to get in. It sounds kind of cheesy, but when we opened it we wanted it to feel like a community, Jully says. It was hard to find talent at first but then once we opened our doors, a lot of people came to us.
Thats the real measure of success for We Are 1976drawing like-minded locals together and fostering a network of shops like theirs, from the Lower Greenville boutique Bows and Arrows to Curiosities in Lakewood.
I get so mad when people say that Dallas doesnt have a lot of creative outlets or cool places to go, Vynsie says, because if you just go down to Bishop Arts or around hereif you look hard enough, its there.
You'll take credit for the good taste when your giftee thanks you for the gift, but deep down in your heart, you'll know it was all Vynsie, Jully and Derek Law making you look good. Sifting through the latest design trends from New York to San Francisco to Tokyo, but always most enthused about handmade local stuff, the folks at We Are 1976 keep their shop turning over with a fresh stock of sleek, useful things for the kitchen or office, books and zines, toy cameras and miniature creations for the sophisticated man or woman of the world who still likes to get down and play with little toy guys on their desk. From J-Pop to steampunk, the stock's always in small batches so you can bet on uncovering something new on each visit. It's also home to great craft classes and workshops from local designers, plus the best stock of Japanese sodas this side of Garland.
Always on the lookout for a way to improve on what's already the best place to get your hair cut, colored and styled, Johnny Rodriguez now has a blow-dry bar at his award-winning salon. So what's a blow-dry bar? Glad you asked. It's actually pretty simple. You drop by the Inwood Village Shopping Center. You get your hair washed. And then you choose one of four blowouts with names like "The Drop-Dead Gorgeous" and "The Big & Beautiful." Of course, this pampering comes at a price: anywhere from $35 to $55 "and up." Then again, Rodriguez has never been confused for Pro-Cuts.
At first glance, Gratitude Vintage looks like any number of vintage shops around town with each of its many rooms filled with racks of clothes, baskets of belts, stacks of vinyl records and display cases teeming with knickknacks, baubles and trinkets. But as you make your way from room to room, soon you'll notice the hats. They're all over. In every room. Some are hung on display racks, but the majority are hanging from the walls–taking up nearly every square—well, round—inch of space. Known for its hat selection, the Oak Lawn-area shop typically boasts a revolving cast of 300 to 400, ranging in price from a few bucks to as high as $300 for some rare designer domes. But, luckily, the vast majority of the hats are tagged at under $40. This year marked Gratitude's 20th anniversary, though in 2008 owner Marion Weger moved the shop to a larger, swankier spot a few blocks away from the original location.
It was so traumatic for Old East Dallas—the whole closing of Dallas' first Whole Foods on Lower Greenville Avenue. Sort of like what the closing of the Metropolitan Museum might be for Manhattan. Then they opened the new store on Abrams and called it "Lakewood"—a knife in the heart for Bohemians. Might as well have called it "Country Club Whole Foods." But at least Whole Foods has honored its East Dallas origins by maintaining what has to be the city's finest selection of granolas. We counted 79 varieties of packaged granola on a recent visit, and that didn't even include the bulk bins where you can mix up your own. In that sense it's still an East Dallas store, even if you do have fend your way past a lot of sweaty 9-year-olds in golf cleats to get to the granola section.
Designing home interiors is only one aspect of 25-year-old SMU grad Doniphan Moore's many talents. He's more of a life stylist, working with design-challenged clients at all budget levels to unify their aesthetic senses, from furnishings to wardrobe to personal style. His own taste fits somewhere between clean traditionalist and soft modern, with a touch of the eccentric. "I embrace the human element of a home," he says, "and don't steer away from the messiness of everyday life. If a bed has to be made up to look good, it's a shame." He's done high-end interiors, low-end home offices, magazine shoots, weddings, floral designs and head-to-toe makeovers. Moore does it all with a keen eye for bargains and it doesn't hurt that he is even funnier and cuter than Oprah's design guru, Nate Berkus. Our crystal ball (which Moore helped us find in a consignment store) predicts that he'll be a major design star too, sooner than later.