A part of what makes independent boutiques like Mountain Air special are the faces behind the counter and behind the scenes. We’d like to give you a chance to get to know the people behind the store, who choose and stand by the brands we carry, and are always ready to chat fashion and give fit advice to help you find exactly what you’re looking for.
You may have heard about or been in to check out our Boss’ Birthday Bash summer sale. This month for her birthday we’d like to give you a chance to get to know Karen, the owner and manager of Mountain Air.
As both owner and manager of the store, Karen goes to buying shows, researches brands and selects lines and items to appear in the store. An average day for her consists of coming in early, checking orders, responding to emails for the store and leading and directing staff and merchandizing in the store.
My staff have it dialed. I don’t have to be in the floor very much, as much as I do like being out there and bossing people around.
Q: How long have you been working at Mountain Air? How did you start working here and/or what drew you to the job in the first place?
Karen: I came here in 1995 to spend a summer with my two sisters as we hadn’t been together in the same place since high school. I was in Edmonton and my older sister Jill was working at this fab store called Mountain Air and she told her boss that I was looking for a job and the rest is history. In fact we all worked for him that summer!
In 2010, after years of working at Mountain Air, Karen decided to take over ownership of the store when the previous owner decided to sell it along with its sister stores at the JPL, in Banff and Whistler. The stores are no longer affiliated, but the new owners keep in close touch.
Q: What made you decide to buy the store in 2010?
Karen: Doug was wanting to retire from retail and I had worked my way up the ranks and felt I knew this business in and out so it was a natural progression. I had two really great teachers/mentors in Doug McPhee and Jackie Ermet, and I’m, sure they can tell you that I always felt like I was the boss even though I wasn’t!
Q: How has the business changed since you first started out in retail?
Karen: [As a retailer] you used to buy in capsules, so everything merchandized perfectly together by colour and style, but now we buy individual items not a collection.
Also, People buy in different ways and are more conscious of fabric content, cost, and origin.
Karen: But everything always comes back! Anything that was once popular will eventually be remade into something more current, something more fabulous, adapted for today’s trends. Shoulder pads, for example.
Q: What’s your vision for the store in the next few years?
Karen: When I bought the store it was the clearing house for the other stores [Open Country Banff and Whistler]. So it’s taken a while to find Mountain Air’s identity without the other stores to trade with. We’re on the path to our truest self, our soul self. 😉
Q: And what do you think that identity is?
Karen: A store for ages 25 plus. Not super junior but not really your grandma’s sweater store either. We’re finding a niche for everyone [regarding price and style].
Every season we try something new to see how it sits and if there’s a response, you order it again and go with what your customer is asking for.
Q: What part of being a business owner in Jasper do you find the most challenging? And the most rewarding part?
Karen: In Jasper the seasonality is tough sometimes, going from so high [in the summer] to so low [in the winter]. People think we’re a lot like Banff, but we’re not. We’re a destination, not a crossroads. It’s not West Edmonton Mall. But I have fabulous staff with great longevity, and I get to meet amazing people from all over and help them have a great experience in Jasper.
I do like bossing people around, and getting in new staff, and when the store looks really good. [It’s rewarding] when we manage to connect with someone and sell them something they love. They have to love it.
Q: What do you look for when bringing a new brand or line into the store?
Karen: Nowadays you have to look at what’s popular but also fabric content, where its made, and of course price-point.
For example with new brand La Fee Maraboutee, it performed well elsewhere [at Open Country], but also it has a really luxurious fabric content and is all made in Italy
Another new brand, Toad and Co is Ethically made and sustainable and has lots of great features.
Q: Describe your personal style or fashion and trends that you like?
Karen: I’m pretty conservative. I like the basics, skinny jeans with a mid rise. I do like my nice wool sweaters and cardigans though. Luxury basics.
Q: What’s your favourite activity outside of work?
Karen: Hanging with my kids and doing the things they like to do. We go biking, to the beach or skiing in the winter. We read books together.
Q: If you could give one tip to customers, what would it be?
Karen: Dress for the body that you have now, don’t try to dress for when you lose that ten pounds. Your clothes should fit and look fabulous on your body now.
Q: What item do you think everyone should have in their wardrobe?
Karen: You should probably have one good pair of jeans because everyone will be checking out your butt. I really love my AG Jeans. They don’t stretch out. I pick them up off the floor and wear them every day. 🙂
Q: If you could go on a shopping trip anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Karen: New York.