NORTH ADAMS -- Now that she's celebrated 15 years in business, the owner of Mia's Exchange Consignment Shop says she plans on doubling her streak.
"I plan on being here another 15 years; I love it," Maria Carmain, owner of the 11 Eagle St. shop, said Saturday.
A focus on customer service is the secret to the success and longevity of the business, according to Carmain.
"We know a lot of our customers; we know what they're looking for, and if I don't have it, I can get it for them," she said. According to her mother, Lucille Levanos, who also works in the store, Carmain prides herself on knowing her customers.
Carmain's favorite part of the business is interacting with and listening to her consignment customers.
"I enjoy the people," Carmain said. "Everybody comes in and they always have a story."
Despite the hazards of running a small business, Carmain and Levanos say they don't remember facing any difficult patches in the last 15 years.
"We are always slow in the winter, but we run a lot of specials," Carmain said, "It's been pretty smooth sailing."
While they don't recall any specific bizarre item they have encountered over the years in the consignment business, Carmain and Levanos are however amazed at how often items they fear will never sell barely get a chance to sit on the shelves.
"They bring things in and we think that's never going to sell," Levanos said.
Carmain also expressed amazement at how some items fly off the shelf.
"I'll get something in and say I don't think I can sell this, but I'm going to try, and then somebody comes in and says ‘Oh my god that's just what I'm looking for,' " she said.
From their store windows, the pair has witnessed many changes in the city over their years in business.
"We've seen a lot of empty stores, but now they're filling up with art," Levanos said.
"We have had over a thousand consignments since we started," Carmain said, adding that many of her consignors have passed away over the last 15 years.
"But we have somebody new come in to take their place," Levanos said.
The arrival of the Walmart Supercenter has also left the duo unfazed.
"I'm not worried about the Walmart because it doesn't seem like they have as many clothes like they used to," Carmain said.
The store only has one main competitor according to Carmain.
"It's hard competing with Goodwill because they get everything free," Levanos said.
Because they are a consignment shop, Mia's can't price things as low as a store that has an inventory made up of donations, according to Carmain.
"We don't mark our prices high, but we try to make it fair so at least somebody can get something for their things on consignment," she said.
Mia's Exchange carries name-brand women's, men's and children's clothing, as well as house hold items. The store has a 99 cent rack and runs daily specials.
"We have a lot of repeat customers," said Carmain. Our prices are very low -- lower than other places around here."
Carmain said her enthusiasm for consignment shops is something that always existed, and others recognized.
"I love tag sales, flea markets; I always wanted to do this," Carmine said, "I started going to the Women's Exchange, and they said ‘gee, I don't know why you don't open your own shop someday. You really seem to enjoy this.' I said, OK, I will."
That was in 1998, and 15 years later, Mia's Exchange is still going.
"We're one of a kind in here," said Levanos.