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“That is gorgeous. It’ll go,” she says, watching a young girl shimmy into a full-length white prom dress. The bodice is shimmery, the bottom pushing out with fluff, the girl grinning.
Amy Baird is the owner of 360°, a consignment shop in Kalamazoo. She wears sparkling earrings, brown hair falling straight just past her shoulders, a nude and white lace shirt over dark cuffed jeans, sitting on a plump chair in the back of her shop.
“We made rent our first month,” she smiles proudly about the store, which opened in 2000. “Not anything more.”
360°, which splits each sale 50/50 between store and seller, dominates much of Kalamazoo’s consignment market, selling to both women and men. Baird is the sole owner, the idea for the store originally pushed hard by Baird’s husband, after only one year of marriage. The store grew quickly at the beginning, and 13 years later has over 14,000 names in the computer, both sellers and buyers. “I am the buyer and I am the merchandiser. I am everything in this job.”
Baird explains quickly that she tried out the corporate path that was prescribed to her, moving west to Denver after studying Apparel, Merchandising and Textiles at the University of Kentucky.
“Well, I had a boss, which I didn’t like. There was no real personal communication with people,” she refers to the corporate world. In contrast, talking about 360°, Baird tells: “The great thing about this place is it is like a family.”
She pauses before explaining that in the corporate world every window had to be designed one way, and that she had her own ideas about how things should be done.
She quickly relates back to her 22-year-old self, remembering her feeling that she had no idea what she wanted to do. Baird reigns from Kalamazoo proper, describes her college-self as a shopaholic. “I did everything everybody else did, I spent a lot of money on clothes,” she admits.
She says she went through the motions after Denver, interviewing to be a buyer for Saks Fifth Avenue in Chicago, eventually moving home to Kalamazoo to work at Second Childhood, a young consignment store in the area.
“I was helping her run that small business at the age of 23, I had all the freedom in the world,” Baird explained about the Second Childhood, owned by a girlfriends mom.
She opened the store soon after that, remembering her husband saying: “We have no money, we have nothing. That’s the perfect time to start it, we have nothing to lose.” Since she knew the area, the plaza where 360° is located was her ideal location. Baird says she knew she wanted to own the store solo, describing her independence and desire for creative control: “I know how I want things done. I was afraid if I did it with somebody else, it would get in the way. I didn’t know what it would do to a friendship.”
“It’s awful, it’s really hard. It’s very stressful to be a woman, who’s a business owner, the breadwinner, and a mother. You wear every hat.” Baird’s kids say “Look Mommy’s famous” when they go out and people recognize her. When the CEO of Yahoo was critiqued for taking two weeks off after pregnancy, she recounts taking one week off, explaining that’s what a single business owner does. Her kids are 10 and 6, her husband works part time at FedEx, mostly for the benefits. Baird laughs at the thought of having hobbies, hoping that when her kids get older she’ll have time to do things for herself again: “I don’t know if I’ll hand this business down to my daughter, because it’s so stressful.”
When the economy dipped, Baird explains: “People were like ‘God your business must be great because it’s used clothing’ and I’m like ‘you know, not really.’ Because if nobody’s buying anything new, I’m not getting anything in, and then I have nothing. It’s a vicious circle.”
The worst came when Plato’s’ Closet opened across town in 2007, forcing a contest in the Kalamazoo consignment scene for the first time in Amy’s ownership of 360°.
“I had anxiety every single day. I’d been coasting along for 7 years, and all of a sudden I had competition,” Baird recalls. Plato’s Closet, she explained, dominated the tween market, and she shifted to a slightly older focus group, 22-45. 360° got a better selection, carrying slightly upscale brands like Banana Republic and JCrew, and despite the personal attach Baird felt initially upon Plato’s closet, she enjoys this new sector.
The fashion world in Kalamazoo is something that Baird keeps tabs on as well, stopping to pick the right words before describing: “Kalamazoo is a little more conservative. Kalamazoo is cheep. People want a deal,” but she continues to explain her motto about the store, “I’d rather have somebody come in and buy five things at a less expensive price than just one. That way five sellers make profit.”