A Hole In The Wall

A Hole In The Wall

Clare Dreyer propagates a new downtown boutique, a ‘satellite’ of the original TopSide

9 min read

By Kailan Manandic

McCall has very little in common with a big city—trees still outnumber buildings, the water is pristine, and the mindset of its residents tends to favor conservation over consumption.

But one overlapping feature, and one of the biggest local attractions, is the rich culture that the local community of artists and creatives has cultivated over the past decade. As the small town continues to grow, so does the budding art scene, with opportunities for performing arts, gallery showcases, and even an evolving fashion.

Fashion is a direct expression of oneself; consciously or not, clothing is a direct result of how a person wants the world to perceive them. Shirts, shoes, pants, glasses, belts, bracelets, and hats all play into an individual’s self-image.

Clare Dreyer understands that more than most—her successful storefront, TopSide Boutique and Salon is a testament to her keen fashion sense. But as always, Dreyer strives to break the mold of the typical rustic mountain athletic style she sees every day, encouraging others to do the same and add something daring to their wardrobes.

“I like creating a space that’s a little bit more creative and outside of people’s comfort zone,” Dreyer says. “I just want to provide something different and unique, because everyone needs new things to see. So, I want to show them—you can be creative, too. You can step out of your box and not be comfortable all the time.”

About a mile up Warren Wagon Road, TopSide still embodies Dreyer’s idea of a creative space. It’s full of colorful fabrics, vibrant scents, warm company, and enough interesting items to occupy local fashionistas for a few hours, all handpicked by Dreyer. But the location is lacking in exposure and walkability.

So, when the opportunity came to convert a downtown dog groomer’s shop into a speakeasy boutique with little more than two weeks before opening day, Dreyer pounced. Last Black Friday, the TopSide satellite store opened at 302 East Lake Street in what Dreyer and other locals have coined “Alley District.” It has since served as a secondary outlet for Dryers’ creativity and an experiment for the long-term success of her small business.

“It's a total experiment store because I've wondered for so long, ‘is it worth it to be in town versus running the out-of-town store?’” Dreyer says. “It hits a totally different clientele, and it's still like how my original store was the most invisible store in town. Now, I have the second-most invisible store in town because I'm not allowed any signage which is its own challenge.”

Hidden Gems
Dreyer draws inspiration from many different places when it comes to her inventory. While there’s no shortage of content to scroll through online, Dreyer finds her edge through traveling and experiencing different cultures and environments.

Most recently Dreyer found inspiration in Austin, Texas, after getting tired of the stale fashion landscape on her Instagram feed.

“For me, I like to see it in its own setting, not in a showroom,” Dreyer says. “I like to see it in the artist's space, or sometimes I'll find stuff in the hotel we're staying at; it'll just be a piece of furniture and I’ll really like its jewel tones.”

While in Austin, Dreyer was steeped in a city full of other creative people who drew their inspiration from places like Mexico City or Buenos Aires. Specifically, in Austin, she found a line of bags from a South American brand with the same quality as a luxury brand but with a distinct style and vision.

“It’s amazing to find something that you can mix and match with a $2,500 bag that’s only $100,” Dreyer says. “It’s rare because the quality of the less-expensive bag is still really high because the artist is still conscious of creating a quality product that they want to put their name on. The price doesn't matter as long as the person who's making it is enthusiastic about the product they're putting out.”

After talking to Dreyer for a few minutes, it becomes clear she has as much passion for her work as any other artist. Like many McCall residents, she is used to spending a lot of her energy surviving, whether it's by shoveling snow or building a fire. It’s often difficult to find the extra energy to entertain her creative pursuits, but Dreyer is driven to provide a space where she and others can express themselves and enjoy the process of creating something unexpected.

To that end, Dreyer spends that energy finding hidden gems and keeping her creative spaces fresh. Her patrons never know what they’ll find, and that’s what keeps them coming back—along with the consistent atmosphere that encourages folks to be confident in their discomfort. 

“I somehow have that little extra energy, and I have a really awesome crew that works with me. I'm super appreciative of them,” Dreyer says. “All of my spaces, well my two spaces, I always want them to be a comfortable space for people who live in McCall to come. Because they're the ones who are here all year long. As much as I want to capture the tourist traffic, I think it's more important for locals to have another option.”

Diamonds In The Rough Bricks
TopSide Satellite may have a central location downtown, adjacent to Ice Cream Alley between the Chevron and MCPAWS Thrift Store, but Dreyer has run into a brick wall in terms of advertising. The signage is nearly nonexistent, and most of the advertising comes from word of mouth amongst her regular clientele and through social media.

 “There is basically no visibility at all, but it's doing great, and I feel like this season is going to be bigger than I ever could have expected,” Dreyer says.

Fortunately, what the 400-square-foot storefront lacks in exposure, Dreyer has made up for in style.

“It kind of feels like you're walking into a giant closet, " she says. I've got vintage rugs on the floor, and it's not so structured that it feels sterile—I feel like I have a lot of different textures.”

When the shop first opened leading into the holiday season, it was full of shimmering sequins, soft fur, and textured corduroy and velvet. Perfect for holiday parties like the annual Snow Ball.

“And now there's a lot of linen, silks, and cotton. We're going into a season of beach bags and straw hats,” Dreyer says, “So, texturally, my shop has everything. It's not just a place where you can find jeans and a T-shirt. You can find jeans and a faux fur vest, or a fedora and a crystal bracelet.”

While the interior itself had to be relatively plain given the 16-day turnaround time Dreyer and her husband had, the simple black and white canvas helps the clothing, accessories, and products pop.

 “I like those things where it's a challenge in and of itself. And then to prove to myself that I could do anything in under a month—it was super fun,” Dreyer says. “It was a total transformation. We completely gutted it, put it in dressing rooms, made it more feminine and upscale. At one point while I was sealing the floor with the kind of tar that is used to seal the bottom of ships. I literally thought, ‘oh my God, I could get stuck in here and die because the floor is so sticky.’ I was like a fly on tar paper. But it turned out awesome, and it's kind of a weird, cool, funky space. It feels really good.”

The satellite store draws inspiration from an underground “speakeasy” style that is commonly found in places like Brooklyn. The style is characterized by brick-and-mortar walls, a hole-in-the-wall atmosphere, a scoop of retro aesthetic, and a pinch of punk-rock attitude. Speakeasy as a concept originally refers to illicit establishments that served alcohol during the prohibition era in the United States. The speakeasy-style saw a revival at the turn of the 21st century when New York bars attempted to recapture that vintage, underground style, according to an article published by The Wall Street Journal in 2007.

“It’s the idea that you're walking down the street and there's all of a sudden this little store that you had no idea was there,” Dreyer says. “Then you walk in and down these little steps and it's a total gem. It's something completely unexpected. That’s what I wanted to capture.”

Overall, this simple yet effective design helped ease the task of building the space, along with a supportive team who fully backed Dreyer and her vision.

“They were on board with the idea, too,” she says. “To have people who were willing to show up and help you tear out this old dog-wash station and build dressing rooms—it definitely takes a lot of relationships to pull it off that quickly.”

Now, whatever energy Dreyer can spare during her day-to-day is split between two locations in McCall. But with a team she trusts to run things while she’s not there, Dreyer is confident that TopSide Boutique and the new satellite location will maintain the creative atmosphere she has worked so hard to cultivate.

“My crew is huge, I totally trust them. I know that they have my best interests in mind for that shop,” Dreyer says. “I think they are feeding off of the creative space, even though it's just a store. It's a fun place to come and try on things, even if people don't buy something, just to see a lot of color and a lot of stuff that's different, that's not just activewear or like mountain experience. It’s an experience that's bigger than just McCall.”

Always Changing
Change is a constant and integral part of the human experience. Perfection is the death of change, and without change, art withers into a stale imitation of everything that came before.

Dreyers’ situation is less than perfect—her attention is split between two locations, and both stores strain to find natural exposure under a canopy of red tape. But those imperfections are just as exciting as they are challenging.

“With both stores, I feel like my energy is a huge component of why they're successful—I'm the person who chose everything and I'm the person who can explain why any given piece is significant to me,” Dreyer says. “I feel like the change is kind of integral to the business without it seeming like there's a huge external change. It’s the internal change for me, revamping who I am, how I present to my clients, and how I can serve my clients is what I'm focusing on right now.”

Biggest of these changes is often the toughest part of being a business owner or a creative director: letting go. Delegating work to people she trusts is a big step for Dreyer, and it’s one she is glad she took.

“I'm having to learn how to be the best manager and boss that I can be,” she says. “I have always been so self-reliant that a lot of times it's easier for me to just do things by myself. But now, with Satellite, I have to depend on my team, and I have to trust that the work they're doing is what they can provide to me and what they can provide to the store.”

As she continues to experiment with the new store, Dreyer is hopeful that the downtown location will expose TopSide to new people and transform the space further. All the while, Dreyer continues to give her creative energy to the always-changing inventory at both stores.

“I’m always looking for something new,” she says.

Ideally, as Dreyer inevitably begins to imagine her next move, she wants to combine the original boutique and the satellite shop in a new storefront that incorporates the best parts of both locations.

“The next move I'll make is to combine them again because, while I definitely like having both stores, I feel like my energy is a huge component of why they're successful," Dreyer says. “I'm the person who chose everything, and I'm the person who can explain why any given piece is significant to me. So, I will definitely re-combine them if the opportunity presents itself and a piece of real estate presents itself.”