Stepping inside the Dear Neighbor boutique in Church Hill feels a bit like entering the foyer of someone’s home, and that’s because that is essentially what you’re doing. Owner Kristy Cotter’s store, which focuses on providing curated and handmade goods for the thoughtful gift-giver, sits just behind her house.
Dear Neighbor first opened in November 2016, after Cotter, an FIT graduate in fashion merchandising, moved from Brooklyn, New York to Richmond. Together with her husband, the art director at the Richmond men’s retailer Ledbury, spent three years looking for the perfect spot for her brick-and-mortar before deciding there was no place like home.
Perhaps as a result of proximity, Dear Neighbor’s shelves are stocked with items that reflect Cotter’s own personality. Wryly humorous cards – maker Tay Ham’s “I’m so excited” card inspired by the “Jessie Spano caffeine pill freakout” of Saved By the Bell fame stood out—sit near locally made woven fans by Le Stuff’s Kirby Baltzegar, pointing to Cotter’s penchant for thoughtfully made products in a range of price points.
The display case by the register is stocked with Cotter’s own jewelry line, Drift / Riot , a brand that marks Cotter’s place in the circle of friends who make up the network of it-retailers in Richmond—including Rosewood Clothing Co., Addison Handmade and Vintage, Need Supply Co. and Na Nin.
As a part of this list, Dear Neighbor joins the ranks of boutiques that have seemingly built their niche in Richmond’s fashion community from the ground up, with a distinctly non-cutthroat approach: pieces from Cotter’s Drift / Riot line—which just came out with a new collection of 70s-inspired back-to-basics pieces—are available in all of the previously listed stores, and Dear Neighbor consistently features pieces from other Richmond makers and retailers.
With the aesthetic of Richmond’s retail landscape still relatively undefined, local retailers like Dear Neighbor find themselves in the unique position of having community growth be synonymous with individual growth. In expanding Richmond’s fashion audience beyond the city’s borders, the ability for these retailers to stick together does much more for their reach than going it alone, and so Cotter reaps nothing but reward for showing genuine love to her contemporaries.
“Everybody knows everybody in Richmond, which I love,” said Cotter. “The maker scene is so supportive, and the retail scene is really supportive too. For example, Kate from Na Nin does a custom candle for us, and I also carry her scents and room sprays. She’s one of our top sellers, and so many people don’t even know that she has a store. So having partnerships like that is a really great way to spread the word.”
In Cotter’s backyard space behind Dear Neighbor, she frequently hosts events that showcase Richmond makers. These events are cross-promotional to the nth degree, opening the space to retailers, cocktail artisans like Belle Isle Craft Spirits and local eateries like Sub Rosa Bakery alike. With the aim of having at least two events per month, Dear Neighbor’s next event is scheduled for May 7, and will feature Studio Two Three as well as several local vendors.
While Dear Neighbor’s push for community support has the effect of encouraging more locals to tap into the market, the impact reaches even further. As Cotter and her contemporaries give a supportive platform to local makers, they simultaneously allow makers from across the country to see that there is a market for their work in Richmond. Today, Dear Neighbor carries the work of makers from Richmond, Colorado, Los Angeles, and the list is only growing.
“I shop seasonably, and I try to gauge the caliber we want the store to be at based on other stores that I like, but it all really comes down to whether something is a right fit for us,” said Cotter. “Really, it’s whatever I like,” from wherever.
By exposing Richmond’s selective buyers to niche sellers and visa-versa, Dear Neighbor sets off a chain reaction that gets everyone involved more excited about their aesthetic choices. It’s not a typical business model, but Dear Neighbor is not exactly a typical gift store.
To learn more about Dear Neighbor and keep up with their events, you can visit their website here and their Facebook here. 2415 Jefferson Ave.
Words by Gabriella Lacombe. Photo credit: Eman El Saied