When I turned 40 (I won’t tell you how many years ago), I understood firsthand why, for a time, it was known as “The New 30” (I’ve recently heard that that distinction now belongs to 60). It was liberating and empowering in ways I never imagined. I was comfortable and confident in my own skin. Like so many other invincible women before me, I never dreamed getting older could have so many wonderful fringe benefits. It seems a fitting paradox, then, that Fringe Benefit joins rank as it celebrates its own 40th birthday on March 18th.
Keeping up with the times
The Downtown Blacksburg women’s fashions’ mainstay has come into its rightful own in the capable hands and devoted heart of its endearing shop owner, Nancyne Willoughby, for the past 25 of those years.
“The original owner, Beverly Patterson, opened it as a natural fiber clothing store to combat the evil polyester of the ’70s,” Willoughby reveals. “I thought the store needed a local owner after Beverly moved to Austin (Texas), so I wrote her a letter asking if she would sell the shop,” she divulges. Two years later, Patterson conceded, and Willoughby bought the shop, as well as the name in September 1987 with then business partner, Judy Murray, who moved on in 1997 and now lives in Mexico.
“I shopped in the store while I was in college and enjoyed it. I never left Blacksburg after graduation,” says the arts-major-turned-shop-owner. “We gave it a facelift and some love and expanded our market beyond students into locals and professionals. We focus on personal service, and the store has evolved to keep up with the times,” according to the successful businesswoman, who knows every customer by name.
An Affinity for Giving
Every shopper gets 20% off on their birthday along with a Frequent Buyer Program, which has been a signature promotion for the past 16 years. The loyalty incentive automatically entitles customers to 15% off every purchase beyond the first $350 through the following Labor Day, culminating in an annual end-of-summer, holiday-themed sale.
A Move in the Right Direction
In June 2004, Willoughby moved the shop from its original location on College Avenue, now home to Hokie Spokes, to its current location at 117 North Main Street between Matrix Gallery and Homebody.
“We more than doubled in size, increasing the space from 900 square feet to just over 2100,” she says. “It was scary, because I had such a bigger space to fill,” she confides, “but I ended up overfilling it.”
Some of that additional space was filled with brand extensions like Ten Thousand Villages and Dansko shoes, which she has carried since 2004 and 2007, respectively, along with her most popular lines Cut Loose, Click, Habitat, Jag Jeans, Pure, Neon Buddah “tons of accessories”, and a lot of stuff made in the U. S.
“I pick up new lines each season,” she adds, without being forced into playing favorites. “I don’t know that I have one,” she says, genuinely torn. “It’s hard to decide. I like a little bit of everything. There’s something for everyone with jewelry from $10-150 and clothing prices that range from moderate to ‘up’.”
Stop by and check out the Spring 2012 collections, which feature a lot of green, perfectly coordinated with the shop’s day-after-St. Patrick’s Day 40th birthday. While you’re there, check out David Nickerson’s original miniature, depicting Fringe Benefit’s place in Downtown Blacksburg’s history, on display behind the counter.
Help Make Fringe Benefit’s Birthday Wish Come True!
Looking for the perfect thing to get Fringe Benefit for its 40th birthday? Lots and lots of likes on its Facebook page, which you can do by clicking here. It only takes a minute and won’t cost a thing but will go a long way toward poising the shop for many years of continued success.