From the Providence City News series "Buy Providence: My Business"
Ask most local people where they send their guests to shop and eat while in Providence, and chances are, at the top of that list is Federal Hill. On any given day, Federal Hill is buzzing with activity and shoppers from all over the globe continue to flock to this internationally renowned Providence destination. But without a doubt, the success of this neighborhood is due in large part to its longstanding history of both quality established and trendy up-and-coming crop of merchants that have populated this strip of Atwells Avenue over the century. Like the clothing boutique, Garbolino, owned by Monique Orcutt.
Orcutt, a RISD alum, sought to sell her own clothing designs more than a decade ago when she first opened Garbolino on the Hill. She was attracted to the cosmopolitan draw of Atwells Avenue that she discovered in places like Soho in New York City, or from her native Los Angeles in California. Today, Garbolino in Providence boasts a woman’s clothing line of what she calls “Los Angeles designer fashion,” a blend of bohemia and sophistication. And there’s a price range for everyone. Discerning shoppers looking for one-of-a-kind attire can buy accessories from $30 to $50 and clothing from $60 to $200, including Orcutt’s best-selling premium fit denims.
City News stopped by Garbolino to check out the latest on styles that are waiting to be taken off the racks at Orcutt’s neighborhood boutique.
Where did the name Garbolino’s come from?
Garbolino is my mother’s family name. We have a store in Los Angeles, California as well, where my family lives. My mother owns the store there and I own this one. The Providence store opened first. This is my third location on Atwells. I started down the street where Angel Rose Sushi is now but it got too small. So I’ve been in this location for four years now. This location is by far the best location I’ve had. The street has changed drastically over the last 16 years and for the better.
Why did you start a business in Providence?
I’m a RISD alumna. I designed my own clothing for years, which I sold all over the United States. In fact, I opened my first store here on Atwells Avenue to sell my own clothes. I had lived in New York City before that and I felt that Atwells Avenue, 16 years ago, felt like a potential Soho. I can see people driving around in Rolls Royces and people living on the streets. So coming back here from NYC and having gone to RISD, I really liked the vibe of Atwells Avenue. And it was affordable to do my own line of clothing here.
Tell us about your product line.
I used to do my own patterns, so I’m an expert in fit. I’ve been known for that for a long time. My line was carried in high-end boutiques in New York. It was a big deal but it’s hard to do that. Based on that, I switched over to retail. Where I am now is what I call Los Angeles designer fashion. It’s a got a bohemian look to it. It’s very hip, trendy, classy, sophisticated. It’s very youthful but it’s not about looking young, it’s about looking and feeling good. The fit of the clothing in this store evolved from my pattern-making days. Women in Providence seem to like that mood or are learning to like it. It’s very popular around the world, like the form-fitting Oprah jeans for example. It’s mainstream in some places and it’s growing here. It’s wonderful.
I always say to people that this is life-changing clothing and people laugh at that idea until it actually happens. What I mean by life-changing is that, for example, when put on a pair of the right jeans, you can instantly look ten or fifteen pounds thinner. You’ve got these jeans that change the way you feel in a minute. You don’t have to lose weight, or get a tummy tuck, because if you put on a pair that fits your form, it makes a difference. We sell jeans here that fit the women that come here. You can’t just put on any pair of jeans. We have the ones that are right for our customers. My number one selling item in this store is my premium denim.
What’s your client base like?
We sell all women’s clothing. Fifty percent of my clientele is out of state because almost everyone that comes to Rhode Island or Providence comes to Federal Hill. They come back every year to shop. The other fifty percent is local and from all over Rhode Island.
So how’s the business going?
This is the best year I’ve had in 16 years. It’s been my busiest year ever. The products that I carry are exceptional and they’re specialized and I’m proud of that. The customer service that we provide is top notch. I work in this store six days a week. I’ve built relationships with every single customer that’s come in to this store.
So people come back from places as far as Texas to Block Island, on visits, to buy their jeans from me. They tell their friends and they come back. They have a good experience here. It’s that life-changing experience.
What’s the best part about being a Federal Hill Merchant?
I’m Italian so I feel comfortable here, but I’m also from the West Coast so I have a different perspective on things. I think that I add to the level of sophistication, class, and quality to this area. All my fellow merchants seem to like what we’re doing.
Federal Hill is the best street in Providence! Over the years, I’ve loved and hated this street but I’m at the point now where I really love this street. It’s got that old-fashioned feeling and it’s a small community of great business owners. You have to be great to make it on Atwells Avenue because the customer that comes here is very particular. They are discerning shoppers. They know that when they come here, they’re going to get the best that Providence has to offer. So you have to be exceptional at what you do in order to make it here on Atwells. So you know that the businesses here are absolutely fantastic. To own a business here is a compliment.
Where do you shop in Providence?
I’m definitely a huge supporter of my fellow small business owners! My hairdresser is in Providence. I go to Venda’s and Tony’s here on the Hill – everywhere. I shop local.
By the way, even though a lot of my clothing is Los Angeles designer fashion from places like Italy, Spain, and France, I’m also very proud to carry jewelry designed by Providence jewelry designers like Sara Greene, Robyn Costa, and Christina Newcomb.
Why should people shop at your store?
Because they will experience something they probably won’t experience anywhere else in this area. People come here from all over. They can get stuff here that they won’t get at stores like Nordstrom’s. Every boutique has that special something they have to offer to their customers and why people should come here is precisely because of that special something we offer too. It’s different. We have on e-of-a-kind item s – jewelry , top s -- and every week we have new stuff. No one else is going to have what you buy here.
What’s next for Garbolino’s?
Continuation. I’m very, very happy that my business is doing well. I just want to continue to build the business. I’m very happy here. It’s a small store and I like that.
For more on our Federal Hill Merchants, go to http://providencefederalhill.com/. For more on the Buy Providence and Buy Art campaign, go to http://bpba.providenceri.com. To learn about the various neighborhood markets in Providence, including Atwells Avenue, go to www.providenceri.com/nm.