By Hannah Holliday
Surrounded by sparkly handbags and floral printed purses, Beth Clark, the owner of Mariah’s Closet, 113 Commercial St., Dowagiac, sits on a couch in her new storefront, explaining people often think her name is Mariah.
The name of Beth’s business, which started sporadically in 2017, is dedicated to her daughter, Mariah, who died as a stillborn on Jan. 17, 2013.
“This didn’t happen right away,” Beth says of the purse filled room, designed to look like a customer is entering a closet. “It was kind of one of those things where I had to do something because I didn’t want Mariah to be forgotten about.”
Beth, with the support of her husband, Corey, decided to sell purses to honor their daughter after a late-night conversation. It started as Beth hosting purse parties for her cousins and close friends.
Fast forward three years and the couple, who has four sons, is eagerly awaiting the date they can officially open the doors to their new brick and mortar storefront. The COVID-19 pandemic and executive orders have kept them patiently waiting for the green light from the governor, Beth says.
The couple, who are both Dowagiac natives, started looking to expand their business into a storefront around New Years Day. The process of leasing the building was surprisingly quick, Beth says. After contacting the landlord, the couple learned they could rent out the building as soon as possible.
“The process took three days,” Beth says. “I looked through the windows and knew I wanted it. We rented it the next day. It fell into our laps.”
In April, Beth opened by appointment only and had 20 to 30 private meetings — something she did not expect to happen.
“People like the personal appointments because it makes them feel important,” she says.
The popularity of appointments inspired Beth to tweak her original hours of operation. When the store officially opens to the public, the store hours will be noon to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. On Mondays, Beth will host private appointments only. Mornings throughout the week will be left open for other possible private shopping meetings.
Beth says the schedule would also ease her transition from stay-at-home mom and running Mariah’s Closet out of her home to an official small business owner.
“It will allow me to balance this new transition, especially because [my kids] do have to do school from home,” she says. “I can still have my morning to do breakfast and to prep dinner. It will give me some time once everything returns to normal.”
On the shelves designed to look like a closet, Beth says the store carries wallets, cross bodies, fanny packs, beach bags, tote bags, seasonal purses, and value sets, which she considers her signature item.
“We always carry black because who doesn’t love a black purse,” Beth says.
The purses are not name brands. Instead, Beth calls them quality handbags.
“That is what we are trying to get to stick, and hopefully, we can trademark [Mariah’s Closet Quality Handbags],” she says.
Also, Beth wants to offer giveaways as a form of customer appreciation. Currently, she is hosting the giveaways through Facebook, on a random schedule. Once the store can open to the public, patrons will be able to buy raffle tickets to go towards the giveaway. At the end of the deadline, Beth will pick a name from a pink purse sitting on the store counter with Mariah’s name on it.
“That was made for my baby shower before I had her,” Beth adds.
Beth and her husband live by the saying, “Even though we are from a small town does not mean we have small town dreams.”
Naturally, Beth wants to see an expansion of locations for Mariah’s Closet. She has her eyes set on South Bend and Kalamazoo. Also, the couple has family in New York and Tennessee, where they already ship products to. However, they hope to maintain the store’s heart in Dowagiac.
“We wanted it to be here first because this is where we are from,” Beth says. “Hopefully, this can uphold and maintain through all the curveballs life is throwing us right now.”
Currently, Beth plans to run the store full-time with help from her husband and one of her sons.
“He is 11 and likes the business type thing,” she says. “He will probably be in here quite a bit.”
As Beth transitions to owning her storefront, she is excited to learn all the new processes.
“I like it and am ready to work for myself and make this work in whatever way we can,” she says. “We want to keep our daughter alive without her being able to be here.”
Photography by Emily Sobecki