Friday, November 23, 2012

on the purple couch gives clothes, furniture new life

Bahia Akerele
Bahia Akerele, owner of On the Purple Couch.

While many shoppers spend Black Friday camped out in front of a big-box store or fighting crowds at the mall, there are great finds to be had at our local businesses as well. In honor of Small Business Saturday, I interviewed Bahia Akerele, owner of On the Purple Couch, a consignment store in downtown Silver Spring.

Located on Bonifant Street, On the Purple Couch specializes in "high quality, lightly used" clothes, accessories, shoes and even home furnishings. The shop provides "an alternative to the bigger stores," says Akerele, who lives in Silver Spring with her husband, an immigration lawyer, and their young son.

Inside On the Purple Couch
Inside On the Purple Couch.

Akerele grew up travelling around the world with her parents before setting out on a career in social welfare policy. She moved to the D.C. after September 11 to work with survivors, but became burned out and decided to try something new. After marrying and having a baby, she decided to open a consignment store, and On the Purple Couch opened its doors in April.

The name comes from a goal she shared with her mentor. "I told her, 'wherever the store's located, I'm gonna have a purple couch,'" says Akerele. "When we thought of a name, it stuck." After months of searching for "the right couch," she's currently in the process of having it reupholstered with purple fabric.

Even without its namesake couch, the store feels like an extension of Akerele's gregarious personality, with bright walls and inviting displays. I'm no clothes horse, but I was impressed by the way she took otherwise mundane items of furniture and made them showpieces, like an Ikea bookcase that became a shoe display.

Restored Table
A table that Akerele painted and restored.

Akerele encourages her shoppers to do the same, teaching workshops on how to restore old furniture. "It's a cool way of transforming what you have," she says. The workshop has been so popular that she doesn't have to advertise. "It's really a phenomenon," she adds.

Despite no longer being in social work, Akerele still works to give back to the community. "The engine of the economy are the small businesses," she says. "We live here. We work here. Our son goes to school here."

The store also hosts book signings and fundraisers for groups like the Tigerlily Foundation, an organization for breast cancer survivors. "I call it using our powers for good," says Akerele.

Dressing Room
A sumptuous curtain hides the dressing room.

Though business has been good, Akerele acknowleges that it's hard getting the word out. "I'm on a hometown street. People are only going to come here if they know," she says. "The major challenge is getting people to know we're here."

One way to do that is through social media. In addition to the store's website, Akerele maintains an active presence on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Houzz, posting design ideas, fun pictures or anything else that she finds interesting.

The goal is to present a "lifestyle," not just a product, she says. After all, she knows shoppers won't visit local businesses if the offerings are poor. "People have to see value," Akerele says."We need to have what you want."

On the Purple Couch is located at 955 Bonifant Street in downtown Silver Spring. This weekend, they'll be open from 10am to 5pm on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday; for more information, check out their website and social media pages (linked above).

Check out this slideshow of On the Purple Couch:

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