Consignment has class at East Brunswick boutique
By LAURIE GRANIERI
“Cute! Cuuuuute! Cute.''
Karen Kaufman purrs her approval. She paws piles of designer clothes and accessories that a loyal client has stacked on her counter: a Christian Dior terry-cloth headband, Ed Hardy jeans "tattooed'' with multi-colored sequins, Juicy Couture slippers, a tiny lipstick-red Coach bag and a nubby Primp blazer featuring silver elbow patches and a detachable turquoise hood.
"That's all, folks,'' the client said as she folded a purple shopping bag.
Kaufman has owned Karen's Consignment Boutique on Route 18 since 1995. She said she relies on a core of approximately 50 women to stock the store with a variety of gently used women's designer bags, shoes in sizes 6 to 11 and clothing in sizes 2 to 22. She also carries furs, new jewelry and maternity clothing.
"I have plenty of (size) smalls because everyone grows out of them and gives us their smalls,'' said Kaufman, a friendly, no-nonsense woman dressed entirely in black. She wears chocolate-brown nail polish, sleek eye glasses and a generous diamond ring.
Kaufman said she splits the profits 50-50 with clients and sells clothing at 20 percent of the regular retail price. After 60 days, if an item hasn't sold, she returns it to the client or donates it to a number of local charities. Past recipients have included Amandla Crossing transitional housing program in Edison.
According to the 44-year-old Kaufman, who has worked in the clothing business since she was an economics major at Rutgers University, the used-clothing business is ""not like a garage sale anymore. We're not thrift shops anymore. We're consignment.''
What that means -- at Karen's, at least -- is that you won't dig up that wacky shift dress that your mom rocked back in the summer of '69. But you might find a Louis Vuitton graffiti pochette for $150. Kaufman said she doesn't accept knockoffs or clothing that's more than 2 years old.
"It's not people who only want to spend $5 to $10,'' Kaufman said. "It's the woman who wants the Chanel bag and doesn't want to pay full price.''
She admitted that eBay most likely has put a dent into her business "because people can sell (clothing) themselves. (But) it's obviously not great for all people. People don't have the time'' to sell their clothing online.
The small store is packed with big names: premium denim by Seven For All Mankind ($24.50) and Chip and Pepper ($59); bags from Louis Vuitton, Prada, Tod's, Kate Spade, Chanel and Chloe going for $95 and up; Abercrombie & Fitch T's going for $12, a Lilly Pulitzer eyelet sun dress for $75.
Karen's is wedged into a strip mall directly across the highway from one of its main competitors: T.J. Maxx. Kaufman said she dukes it out with discounters such as T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, Loehmann's and outlet stores.
"If you can get them at Loehmann's for $80,'' Kaufman said, "I have to sell them for $60.''
Laurie Granieri: 732-565-7333 or lgranieri@MyCentralJersey.com
AT A GLANCE
Name of business: Karen's Consignment Boutique
Address: 336 Route 18 north, East Brunswick
Type of business: Women's clothing store
Principal: Karen Kaufman
How long in business: 14 years
Staff photo by Jason Towlen
Karen Kaufman, owner of Karen's Designer Consignment Boutique in East Brunswick,
works with customers Nina Cohen, left, and her mother, Esther Suben.