For more than 100 years, Gus Mayer has been specializing in women’s retail with a laser-sharp focus on the customer’s needs and desires. The sophisticated yet chic specialty store has a little bit of everything on its shelves — women’s apparel, from contemporary sportswear to jaw-dropping gowns; an impressive shoe collection; designer makeup; a diverse and stunning array of jewelry; fashionable accessories and smart gifts — but what really keeps the family-owned store thriving, says Gus Mayer President Herman Heinle, are the customers who shop there daily. “We have a family atmosphere here — it’s not like working for a big conglomerate by any stretch,” says Herman. “It’s a people-driven business.”
Founded in 1900, the original Gus Mayer was located in the heart of New Orleans on Canal Street. In the midst of the Roaring ’20s, Gus Mayer opened its first Birmingham location downtown, when the retail block of Fifth Avenue North was a bustling hub. The store was later relocated to Highland Avenue, where Bottega Restaurant and Café stands today. In 1975, the Pizitz family purchased Gus Mayer, later opening a second location in Nashville. Today, located in the Summit shopping center along the thriving US 280 corridor, the Birmingham Gus Mayer continues to keep the customer at the heart of their business philosophy. And Herman confirms that fact without skipping a beat, saying, “Customer service — that’s what separates us from the big stores.”
But don’t let the “mom and pop” feel fool you into thinking they only carry a few brands. Gus Mayer’s in-house buyers travel across the country — from Los Angeles to New York City — to make sure the store stays stocked with the latest trends and fashions in the best quality, regardless of brand-name recognition. From designer makeup to runway-worthy styles, the sprawling boutique prides itself on offering top-of-the-line designs at a diverse range of price points that will please any purse.
Cami Krablin, who buys contemporary sportswear for the Birmingham and Nashville stores, says she’s always looking for inspiration and keeping an eye out for the next hottest look. “I get really excited and the adrenaline starts flowing when I discover new and exciting lines,” Cami says of what it’s like to search through the vendors at market for the latest in fabulous, cutting-edge sportswear. “That’s where I get inspired and get excited to bring the city something new and different that people will hopefully love.”
Alice and Olivia, Blank NYC, and 360 Cashmere are just a few brands Cami loves lately. When it comes to picking out trends for Birmingham women, she says she usually gravitates toward a polished urban look, but she’s not opposed to splashing in some color and funky styles when it’s appropriate. “The more choices I can give the women of Birmingham, the better,” she said.
Cami isn’t the only Gus Mayer buyer scouring markets for new finds. Regina Sigman, who owns Regina Jewelry and Treasures, has been leasing space in Gus Mayer for 12 years. Carrying a broad range of brands — Wendy Yue, Lauren Harper and Amali, to name a few — Regina admits her love of jewelry is strong, and she wants Birmingham women to have the best options when it comes to adorning themselves.
“I am not a cookie cutter person, and I don’t like to compete with the traditional jewelry store look,” says Regina, who hails from New York. “I try to find things that are attractive to women of all means — from moderate means to beyond moderate.”
In a world of large retailers and big-box stores, Regina says Gus Mayer offers a breath of fresh air and selections that are unmatched. When she’s not helping customers find the perfect piece of jewelry that meets their price range, she’s out at market collecting styles she knows Birmingham women will love. “I go to designer studios, various markets across the country — East Coast, West Coast, Southeast — wherever the market takes me, I go,” she says.
Because her business isn’t a chain, Regina says customers can find styles that won’t be repeated. “If you’re looking for something different, Gus Mayer is where you need to go,” says Regina. “My biggest compliment from people is that they found something here that they don’t see on anyone else and they won’t find anywhere else. That’s the purpose of my business.”
Because Gus Mayer specializes in bringing cutting-edge and well-known name brands to Birmingham at a crowd-pleasing price range, Heinle said it’s no surprise that Gus Mayer attracts customers of all ages and income levels.
“We believe people are our number one asset,” he says. “Many of our sales associates have been here 15 to 20 years, so they know their customers and their customers’ daughters, and they know what they want.” As the store continues to offer the best and latest fashions, Heinle said he has no doubt Gus Mayer will continue to grow with Birmingham — a city that is becoming a fashion destination in its own right.
“Even though we’re a large store, we’re still a specialty store,” he said. “We try to find the most unique and hottest lines — and that’s where the difference is.”
Gus Mayer is located at 225 Summit Blvd., Ste. 700, at The Summit in Birmingham, AL 35243. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Call (205) 870-3300 or visit gusmayer.com.
This article is sponsored by Gus Mayer.