Debbie Dardanelli is in business seven days a week. Her store is open seven days and her cellphone is always on to talk to real estate buyers. She never stops selling.
Sure, she wants to make money. But she only makes money if she sells something. Houses and dresses qualify as something to sell, but she’d probably be good at selling cars or airplanes, too.
But even just selling something and making money is not her goal. “My goal in clothing and in real estate,” she said, “is to make people happy, to make them satisfied with what they buy and feel good about doing business with me.”
That may be why she has 790 accounts who bring clothes for resale to “Girlfriends,” her consignment shop a few feet up Nichols St. from the Brickworks. And many of them buy from her, too.
“If I like someone’s style, I tell them I want their clothes,” she laughs. And she also tells them, “If you wouldn’t buy it, I won’t sell it.” Which presumably means that some gifts from husbands and regretted purchases don’t make the grade.
Her first job, and the first business she owned, was “Deju Fashions” in Alaska, a clothing store selling imported goods she opened in 1978. She liked selling clothes, so she opened a used clothing store in Friday Harbor in 1991, the same year she married Pete, her husband. She sold that store a dozen years ago and soon after joined Windermere Real Estate because, she says, “I wanted a career for getting older.”
In March of 2012, when the “perfect location” opened up at 210 Nichols St. (the former Gallery San Juan), she didn’t hesitate getting back into the clothing business. Her friends started bringing things by for her to appraise, which she does by checking prices on the internet and by “asking people what they paid.”
Girlfriends now brings in about 200 items per week (in September, she took in 909 items), splits proceeds 50/50 with the consignor, reduces the price by half after 90 days, and later donates most unsold goods to Soroptimists. Dardanelli will return the item to the consignor if asked when the item comes in, and she’ll always call if the sales price is more than $100. She tries to maintain a balance of classic and contemporary clothes for both men and women, although 90 percent of her sales are women’s clothes, shoes, handbags and jewelry.
Because she has 800 clients that bring her things, she can be choosy - first for quality, second for brand name - names like Donald Pliner shoes, Anne Fleischer vintage ribbon dresses, Johnny Was dresses, even a Chanel couture suit. A subspecialty is about 500 name-brand designer handbags. Many items come in unused, with original tags; most items sell for less than half of the original price.
She’s still active every day as a real estate agent with Windermere. “Real estate is coming back,” she says, “I’m still calling real estate clients and clothing accounts, telling them about new properties on the market or new clothing acquisitions they might want to buy.” Because she knows her customers, she knows styles and sizes that suit them.
Local people are her main market for clothing; out-of-towners buy most of the houses, she says, but she’s always ready to sell clothing to tourists or houses to locals.
Although she modeled two hats at once for a photo, and although she moves seamlessly between careers, Debbie Dardanelli really wears only one hat: businesswoman.