Zia Boccaccio has been running her shop in downtown Annapolis for a decade and she doesn’t want that to change.
Not that she hasn’t had any offers for Alpaca International. Aside from her locations in Park City, Utah and Juneau, Alaska, Boccaccio has been approached about moving her 1,200-square-foot shop elsewhere in the region. But she won’t go, because she said she believes in Main Street, Annapolis.
She’s eager for foot traffic to increase with the return of the General Assembly.
Alpaca International sells men’s and women’s clothing made out of alpaca wool. Boccaccio, who is from Peru, talked to The Capital about her shop’s 10 years, the state of downtown business, and how an alpaca toy helps sell her products.
What were things like when you started out?
“We started as an accessories manufacturer. We evolved from accessories that were made in 100 percent beautiful alpaca, and we evolved into more of a collection.
“I saw the potential of the product and I knew there was room to grow. The demand basically (caused the evolution). Alpaca, 10 years ago was something new for a lot of people in America. Today there is an alpaca farm just about everywhere in the country. That has pretty much awakened the curiosity and also the knowledge about the beauty of the product.”
What makes alpaca special?
“(Picks out a jacket) Basically, it’s tailor made. Every detail is made to flatter you and also be very practical. This is a specialty store. We still like to sell as a company, so we don’t produce en masse but what we produce is very special and very elegant. Take into consideration the qualities of the wool. They’re very tailor made for the northeast part of the country.”
With alpaca being so new when you started out, how did you make any sales?
“It was hard to explain the quality of the product to somebody who didn’t know it. So that’s one of the reasons we came up with these little toy alpacas in order to make (customers) feel how (alpaca fur) feels. We basically sold the product through touching. For me, that was an educational part of educating the public about where we come from.
“It was slightly difficult, but it was what I really enjoyed doing. When I’m selling an item, I’m really introducing my cultural heritage and history into a sale.
“Peru has such a rich history that’s attached to the animal and the textile tradition. We put all that together into everything we do.”
What brought you to this area?
“I got married. I used to live in D.C., I worked in D.C. in the retail world. My ex-husband lived here. He was my partner in creating my company. I basically decided to open a store in downtown Annapolis. I fell in love with the community, the history. It has been so long that now I feel like I’m an Annapolitan, really. I was living here about 18 years before I opened my business.”
How would you describe the state of downtown business these days?
“It’s difficult, very difficult. You can tell by the amount of stores that that have closed by the end of the year. Instead of being discouraged, that just gives me a new challenge to prevail.
“Downtown Annapolis is such a vital and important part of our community. We want to convey the message that we’re here because (customers) shop local in our stores. We need to tell Annapolis residents that there are beautiful stores here. The shopping district could be stronger if the community understands that supporting us is really keeping Main Street alive.”
Why do you think stores are closing?
“The high rent, the high cost of operation. The foot traffic has diminished immensely with the opening of other locations, like the (Annapolis) Towne Centre, the mall. But yet the cost of operating has risen, so it’s impossible to keep a business in that environment. We’ve been lucky because we have focused on our product, our clientele, our goals. We have goals, every year, every month, every day.
How do you manage to survive?
“My company has been lucky in that we’ve opened in locations that have supported this area. For example, Christmas in Annapolis was one of the best seasons we ever had since we opened. But January, February, March, historically because of the weather and many other elements, winter is a very slow season here in Annapolis.
“But I’m getting ready to go to Park City where the ski season ... prompts us to have an absolutely tremendous season. That ends in April, when Annapolis starts coming back with the spring, summer (events). Then I go to Alaska, where the cruise ship season starts and that’s where we cater. We cater to the cruise ship companies. I’ve been lucky to have this circle, but it’s been with a tremendous physical and personal sacrifice.”
How do you manage it all?
“In order to run a company like mine, you need someone who is 150 percent committed to the job and to the work. I do this because I truly, truly enjoy what I do. I truly love what I do.
“I travel from north to south. One day you’ll find me in Alaska, and the next week I’m in the southern part of South America, I’m in the mountains, or I’m in New York in Manhattan. That is the kind of life I have. Some people might say it’s very glamorous. It isn’t. It’s about work. It’s about the demands of my job. I don’t go anywhere just to travel. I’m there to work, to open up business, to meet goals.”
Why has downtown Annapolis been so important to you?
“We started with one store (here) and now we’ve grown into a label. I don’t think for a minute that I would move out of downtown Annapolis. I’m adamant. I’m passionate about keeping my store here.
“I’ve had a lot of offers from malls to move the store, but I don’t want to because I started here and I truly believe in the beauty and the potential of Main Street. Even though I could probably be more profitable elsewhere, I don’t want to (move). I think that attitude has really prompted a lot of our loyal customers to come and support us.”
Written by Shanteé Woodwards of The Capita Gazett