(WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass.) – “Women are digging in their heels,” says Jo Ellen Harrison, owner of Ruby Sparks, a new women’s clothing store that opened on Easter weekend on Spring Street. “They’re tired of buying clothes in big box mall stores. They’re looking for a more personal experience with smaller, locally owned stores that bring back the excitement of shopping for something new.”
Ruby Sparks, a fanciful name made up by Harrison to convey some of the color and energy of the new store, is a direct attempt to fill the gap left by the departure of popular women’s fashion store Zanna, which closed last year. In fact, Harrison’s store is carrying many of the same lines of clothing that Zanna offered. The clothing at Ruby Sparks is contemporary, with items ranging from the glamorous to the everyday casual. The new store carries a full line of jeans, sweaters, dresses, handcrafted shoes and boots, accessories, handbags, scarves and jewelry.
The lineup of brands includes labels such as Pine Cone Hill, Cambio, Maggy London, NYDJ, Sympli and Nic & Zoe and a half dozen more. There’s a foreign accent in the silk scarves from Tibet, mohair sweaters from South Africa, hand knitted sweaters from Thailand and cotton bags from Australia. Shoes and boots will be popular, especially those by Frye and Gentle Souls. Prices at Ruby Sparks range from $30 to $300 with the majority of items between $75 and $125.
The store itself, with its sunshine yellow walls, red highlights, gold star bursts and a red patchwork cowhide rug conveys a sense of great expectations. “We want customers to strut out of here,” says Harrison, “ with a renewed sense of self confidence … looking good and feeling good.” For Harrison, the pleasure of the shopping experience is nearly as important as the product.
The day-to-day running of Ruby Sparks falls on the capable shoulders of Cindy Jeandell, whose extensive retail experience includes managing a Pendleton shop, acting as assistant regional manager of a division of Best Buy and running the Vermont Color Labs in Williamstown. Working with Harrison, Jendell’s goal is to establish Ruby Sparks as the “go-to” women’s clothing store in the Berkshires.
Harrison feels the time is right for a new business on Spring Street, because the economy is slowly turning around and the Williamstown area has benefitted from a recharged Williamstown Theatre Festival, the expanded Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute and a greater awareness by Williams College students, parents, professors and alumni that Spring Street provides a unique retail shopping experience.
Harrison also claims a responsibility to other Spring Street merchants. “This is Williamstown’s main street,” she says, “and we have to keep it active, alive and flourishing. I think our new store will help to make Spring Street a daytime destination once again and increase business for all the stores in town.”
Harrison, who also owns the eponymous art gallery next door, has run a successful art business in that location for ten years. As a Harley Davidson motorcycle rider and a romantic, Harrison couldn’t resist incorporating her love of the bike into the name of her store. The “Ruby,” she says, is a reflection of the red taillights going off into the night, and the Sparks is the imaginary glittering stardust that flows in her wake. To her, the name represents excitement, freedom, adventure — all the emotions she hopes to stir in the Ruby Sparks store.
Ruby Sparks at 37 Spring Street in Williamstown, Mass., is open Monday through Saturday from 10 to 6. Thursday nights it’s open until 7:30 pm; Sundays from noon until 5.