To get away and beat winter blahs without paying a travel price tag, local customers can “Shop the World at ETC”—Eclectic Trading Company, Byrnes Mill's newest business, just a few miles from Eureka and High Ridge.
Bobbie Kassman, the owner, has painted and decorated the 1,500-plus-square-foot store to resemble a colorful bazaar, filled with thousands of unusual, reasonably priced items from more than a dozen countries, including Afghanistan, England, Spain, Peru, India, Mexico and Bali.
Beaded scarves, Pashmina shawls, unique purses, casual and dressy jewelry, funky shoes, antique pieces, wine racks, books, outdoor decor and other furniture items offer a wide assortment. Walls are covered with antique and newer mirrors, plates and framed art. Rounders hold new and used designer clothing, such as Chico's and Coldwater Creek, and tables are filled with unique gifts, stationery, mugs, pottery and housewares.
“Shoppers here have compared me to the Old Pier 1, Three French Hens in Wildwood or Plowshares in the Loop,” said Kassman. “They're shocked by how much choice is here, and I get new merchandise in every day.”
The store appears small on the outside but she said people are amazed at how big it is, using every inch inside. The entire store is colorized and sorted to make it easy for consumers.
"We are not a resell or consignment shop. We carry new, vintage and items from other countries. We offer something for everyone, every age. We also offer personal shopping advice and service," said Kassman.
Her son is moving to Spain, a friend's son lives in England, her former husband is working as a union electrician in Afghanistan, and she said she has many different friends and retail connections throughout the world.
Kassman studied interior decorating and retail management at St. Louis University after an earlier career in the medical field. She has worked for “years and years” in retail management, as an assistant manager at an upscale clothing store and later as director of operations at Leppert-Roos at Plaza Frontenac. As an area or regional manager for multiple retail stores, she designed retail displays and often traveled to New York and Europe to buy merchandise.
“From the time I was 17, I always wanted to own my own boutique,” she said, describing herself as “hyper and used to being extremely busy.”
She said the current store merchandise is secured from many sources, especially family members and friends working all over the world, sending one-of-a-kind items to offer. "A couple of people, including myself, hand-select merchandise for the shop," she said.
"Two local jewelry designers create jewelry. One does trunk shows for Neiman Marcus and also purchases rare stones, many from Arizona. We go to markets in Atlanta, Chicago and Kansas City."
Eclectic Trading Company is Kassman's third business. For the past 16 years, she's owned Arch Copying and Printing Services, Inc., in south St. Louis. She also does “property management and redecorating work for various properties my family owns or manages.”
Kassman, who lived in High Ridge for 16 years, opened ETC the day after Thanksgiving. She considered setting up by K-Mart or in Eureka, but high rents forced her to reconsider. “I got in my car and drove down (Highway) 30 and thought, 'It would be nice to have more high-end merchandise available to residents here.' ”
She decided to move to 4575 Hunter Lane, behind McDonald's and in-between Cinco De Mayo Mexican Bar and Grill and AutoZone, near the intersection of Highway 30 and Route W. The store is located next-door to Energy Fitness.
“Byrnes Mill was very welcoming and easy to work with, and city staff have come to visit the store,” said Kassman. “I think this is the perfect area. I already have repeat shoppers who come in weekly to see new merchandise, and who have referred friends here. I know it will take time for people to learn about us and to drop in, but I'm hopeful that my unique merchandise and reasonable prices will be a good attraction and addition here.”
Most customers are shocked when they walk in the store's door, she said. "There is no store like this in the area."
She said they have customer appreciation cards, give customer incentives and offer private in-store sales and e-mail specials. They also offer layaway and gift certificates year-round.
"Many people say this is their 'new favorite store.' This is a great place to shop for that hard to buy for person because we have unique items that you cannot find everywhere else," she said.
Leading up to Valentines Day, during Feb. 9-14, Kassman said they are offering refreshments, 20 percent off all jewelry, and a $10 gift certificate when customers spend $40 or more.