This is Small Business Weekly, a recurring feature in which we’ll spotlight a small, independently owned business in Bethesda or Chevy Chase. Got a business you think we should check out? Drop us a line at desk[at]bethesdanow[dot]com.
For the most part, the long, narrow buildings of Woodmont Triangle used to be home to auto repair shops and other light industrial uses.
At Gallery St. Elmo (4938 St Elmo Ave.) one of the walls was originally an overhead garage door. It’s now painted and blanketed with luxury furnishings on consignment, an apt analogy for owner Jill Martin’s mission of reinventing old products.
“I’m very careful about the quality,” said Martin, who took over ownership of the store about three years ago after working there as an employee. “We have sort of a solid, upscale look. We’re not trendy. We’re traditional but very useful and people want to be able to buy this furniture.”
The Gallery offers the pricey couches and chairs you’ll see at Ethan Allen, Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel and others for up to a third or even half off the original price. It also sells some antiques, contemporary furnishings and jewelry.
Martin has about 6,500 consigners in the store’s database and sends a weekly email detailing new stock to about 2,500 subscribers.
“You have to be online,” Martin said. “And those are people who have given me their email and are interested in seeing the new things we have. I think you’ve got to be really careful with overreaching or overloading people with information.”
The store was featured in Southern Living magazine along with a number of other Bethesda furniture and gift shops that have started to make a name for downtown Bethesda’s small business community.
Martin has found solid footing selling to “the more traditional” market of Bethesda, as opposed to some of the “funkier and trendier” consignment shops she sees around the D.C. area.
The alley outside Martin’s door that used to come in handy for car mechanics is also an advantage for her. She’s constantly moving furniture into and out of the store. She hopes her need for ground-floor space won’t eventually price her out of an area where the rent continues to grow.
“In terms of [Bethesda] being a go-to destination for shopping, I think it’s very much still a work in progress,” Martin said. “This spot meets my needs. Whether or not I can continue to pay this rent is the bigger question and rent is what it’s going to all boil down to.”
Previously featured in Small Business Weekly: Sports Extra