RoseMary Gange knows how to run a successful business. She opened her store, Camille et Famille, in 1990, had a great run on Oak Park Avenue near Lake Street, then moved to 7418 Madison St. in Forest Park in 2010, and is presently celebrating the shop’s 25th anniversary.
Camille et Famille — Camille is RoseMary’s middle name — started in a 1,000-square-foot space in Oak Park where Gange sold home décor, jewelry and seasonal merchandise, such as Christmas ornaments. When that venture went well, she expanded into the vacant storefront next door and added clothes and eventually expanded to the store next to that which doubled her square footage. She even opened stores in Oak Brook and Park Forest for a few years until she realized that she would have to downsize her business model if she wanted to avoid being constantly exhausted.
What happened when she closed those two branch stores in 2000 is that customers from Oak Brook and Park Ridge liked her product line so much that her store in Oak Park became what merchants call “a destination.”
“The store went nuts,” she said. “Sales went through the roof. We had a really good seven-year run.”
Her bottom line wasn’t affected much when the economy started getting soft in 2007 until her landlord decided to double her rent from $8,000 a month to a whopping $16,000. That huge increase in overhead, combined with a major economic downturn, were informing her the great run was over. “It was like the universe was telling me, ‘Don’t be in business,” she recalled.
She closed the store and went on a two-year hiatus.
In 2010 Dave Minola, who knew Gange and who owns the building where her store is now located, called her and asked, “Are you ready to get back in business again?”
“It’s a much smaller space than what I had in Oak Park and so I can’t offer as much to customers,” she said, “but I’m an empty-nester, so I don’t need as much income, and rents are cheaper in Forest Park than in Oak Park.”
After 25 years, Gange said that Camille et Famille is a “mature business.” You could also say that about the owner. Relationships are as important to her as the bottom line. Famille, after all, is French for family.
“My employees stay with me forever,” she said. “For me it’s not just about business. It’s also about mutual respect between me and the people who work for me. Anyone in management gets health insurance, to which they also contribute, and a 401K.”
She has also been a mentor for several of her employees, “helping people achieve their dreams.” Gloria Flagg, who worked for Gange part time, 1995-2000, is a case in point. In a story by Michael Romain last year for the Village Free Press, Flagg said the experience was enough to give her the skills and confidence to open a business of her own — Twice Again Resale Shop in Maywood — and she uses many of Gange’s sales techniques in her own store.
“We really are like a family,” Gange said. “When we closed the Oak Park store, it was very emotional. All the employees were crying. It was like a death in the family. Some of them still get together for lunch. They looked out for each other and helped each other out.”
That’s the way she tries to treat the people who come into her store as well. Many of her former customers have returned since she moved to Madison Street.
“We women are often hard on ourselves,” she said, “how we look, our bodies, our age. If you are worrying about that, life is less enjoyable. I don’t ever want anyone to walk out of my store feeling I talked them into something. A lot of people after all these years trust that I’m not going to let them walk out of the store looking foolish. At the same time, sometimes it’s fun to get out of your comfort zone, to step out of your box.”
The latter make a store like hers possible.
“There’s a different kind of population in Oak Park,” she explained, “real academic but also lots of artsy people. When you have that kind of sense, a clothing store like ours, which is not just about T-shirts or business suits, can do well. They will buy things that are fun and funky.”
“They also,” she added, “have the expendable income to buy these kinds of things.”
Gange is celebrating the 25th anniversary of Camille et Famille with a sale on the last weekend of September.