A community rallies around a cherished boutique
● By Richard Gaw
When Deanna Johnson first opened the doors to Marche, her lifestyle boutique on State Street in Kennett Square, it was the weekend of the 2016 Mushroom Festival, and revelers festooned in various stages of fungi fashion welcomed her to town.
From the start, Marche seemed be the lost piece of a puzzle that was suddenly found and placed perfectly in a town that was one blank space short of retail perfection. Within weeks of its opening, the long and skinny shop became the big sister's closet of Kennett Square, a funky vibe kind of place that was filled with furniture, linens, home décor, women’s clothing, accessories sourced from around the globe, and artwork from some of the leading artists in Chester County.
In between business, word had gotten out that Marche's First Friday Art Strolls had become one of the town's coolest hangs, where a guest intent on a mere drive-by would instead linger for an hour over a cocktail and conversation.
On the morning of March 5, Johnson was applying her talents as an interior designer at the new Bentley Homes' Stonegate development on South Union Street, when she received a phone call from a Marche employee.
“Deanna, there’s water coming from the bathroom floor, the ceiling and everywhere else,” the employee told Johnson. “I’m dragging rugs and pillows out of the back room.”
Johnson immediately contacted her landlord, then the building’s owner, and then adjacent businesses. She also called her friend Nicole Contro-Pieri, the owner of Flood Support, a Kennett Square-based damage restoration business. Within a few days, the company had entirely cleaned the store.
Marche, like so many shops along State Street, are businesses whose parts are both seen and unseen. In store after store, the goods and merchandise are meticulously placed in well-lit spaces, according to the exactitude of the store’s owner, but the old bones of an old town are hidden down below, in basements that reveal an intricate but failing system of pipes and plumbing.
That’s where the problems were happening, and the effectiveness of Flood Support’s mitigation could not hold back the inevitable. On March 20, additional pipes began to fail that caused a second flood on March 22.
Johnson began to survey the damage, both real and anticipated. She had lost tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of high-end merchandise, a small portion of which was covered through insurance, but the worst of it was that the flood had occurred during the early spring season, when her customers regularly visit the store to consult with Johnson about sprucing up their homes.
Marche had to close its doors.
For the next several weeks, Johnson’s life was a turmoil of attempting to reach contractors, her new property manager, and as of April 25, the residual damage of the flood that had occurred 51 days before had not yet been fully repaired. She began the necessary litigation process, and the revenue that she had anticipated had all but vanished.
Very few in Johnson’s life even knew.
“I never talked about it to anyone, so no one knew the gravity of the problem,” she said. “In the first 30 days after the flood, I kept telling myself that everything was going to be okay, but slowly, I kept feeling more and more out of control. I didn’t want to cause problems or be dramatic. I work hard, I pay my bills, so I didn’t want to have to ask for any help.”
One evening in April, Johnson shared her story with Shannon Blake, the owner of Penny Lane Emporium. Soon after, she began to hear from friends, customers, shopkeepers, local officials and business leaders, all of whom offered creative ideas and support. Local artist Ellen Catanzaro, whose paintings, wallpaper and pillows are inventoried at Marche, contacted Johnson. Bove Jewelers offered spaces in their store. Sheila Sanford, a customer, offered to plant flowers and spruce up the exterior of the store. Artist Katee Boyle decorated the store’s front windows, which now document the two-month journey Johnson and her staff have been on in an effort to re-open Marche.
“One thing I think that Deanna was doing was suffering by herself,” Blake said. “She was very reluctant to share any of this with anyone, so when she shared her story with me, I told her, ‘No one can help you if nobody knows.’”
Working with Blake and other Kennett Square female-owned businesses, Clean Slate Goods owner Kari Matthews created “Let’s Reopen Marche’s Doors,” a Go Fund Me campaign. “Many of you have asked, ‘How can I help?” the site states. “So we (fellow merchants of the Kennett borough) wanted to create this campaign as a way for you to get involved – a tangible way to alleviate some of the financial stress Deanna and her business are currently facing; a way to help keep Marche afloat during this time of crisis.”
As of last week, the campaign had raised close to $2,000 toward a $6,000 goal.
“I tried to put myself in Deanna’s shoes and thought that if I was on the brink of losing my business, who would I turn to and what would I do?” Blake said. “As soon as we put Deanna’s story out in the universe, everyone rushed to help. In a very prominent female owned business community, we’re all helping each other out.”
Johnson said that while she works with the sales agent to get the flood damage repairs done – which she said is about two to three weeks away from completion – she and her staff are eyeing a reopening of the store in late May or early June, which she said would very likely include a party to thank the many people who have helped her.
“This experience has taught me that I need to let people help me,” Johnson said. “I tend to go with my gut and put my head down and move forward, so it’s been hard for me to tell others that I need help with this, but now, thanks to the many people who have reached out to me, I have a renewed sense of strength that will get me to get to the other side.”
“I recently told Deanna, 'You are positioning for a comeback,'” Blake said, 'and it's going to be big.'”
To make your contribution to Marche, visit www.gofundme.com/marche-kennett.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.