Forget the SEPTA ride to Rittenhouse for a new pair of jeans — campus is going vogue.
Entrepreneur Alessandra Coffenberg is opening Piper, a “fashion-forward, trendy and affordable” boutique on 34th Street between Walnut and Sansom, just in time to meet the wave of students returning from fall break.
This is Coffenberg’s second retail venture, as the first Piper is located in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and caters mostly to the college demographic at Skidmore College, she explained.
Piper features names including J Brand, BB Dakota, Ark and Co., Gorjana jewelry and Urban Expressions Handbags within an eclectic mix of brands and styles often found most easily online, Coffenberg said.
Wharton sophomore Melanie Appleby said that the store sounds like a “fabulous idea,” as Penn’s campus has its fair share of stores selling “essential” or practical clothing, but nothing “one of a kind.” College sophomore Emma Baiada was excited to have a “more convenient” shopping venue and felt that this store would make campus feel more “cosmopolitan.”
With backgrounds in both finance and fashion, having worked for Goldman Sachs and in licensing for Marc Jacobs, Coffenberg has found that running boutiques is her calling.
With Piper, Coffenberg attempted to remain “within the typical college price point,” featuring silk tops that will sell for between $30 and $50, adding that nothing in the store would cost over $150.
Welcoming the fall season, Coffenberg is excited to bring in denim, bracelets, transitional pieces, riding boots and a line of well-priced wool coats, among much more. In the spring, Coffenberg hopes to expand the shoe selection with Jack Rogers, Sperry and Hunter boots.
When asked to dress a mannequin in her mind, Coffenberg envisioned an “awesome pair of brown skinny jeans, a fun silk top and a boyfriend blazer with a great accessory,” something she called “a versatile look.”
Coffenberg toured 17 other college campuses in the Northeast before deciding to call Penn her second home. In Penn she saw “a big school” with a demographic similar to Skidmore’s and plenty of young women who looked like they “could be a Piper shopper.” She was surprised that there were no boutiques on campus and saw a “real need” for one.
While most students were curious about the unveiling of the new boutique, College senior Julianne Mele felt that the shop would not “completely” replace her shopping experience downtown but was happy to finally have a boutique on campus.
Penn’s Executive Director of Real Estate Ed Datz — whose office worked closely with Coffenberg in preparation of the boutique’s opening — felt that the placement of Piper “will be favorable, having synergy with the adjacent tenant of Adolf Biecker and complimentary” to the nearby Gap, Loft, American Apparel and Urban Outfitters. Coffenberg was drawn to that corner of 34th Street because it is “safe” but also “wild” with foot-traffic.
In contrast with the other clothing stores on campus, Coffenberg’s store will have “personality,” and she will be able to offer a “customer service experience” that other shops can’t rival.
Though she expects to sell more volume here than at her Saratoga store, Piper will receive new shipments every day so as to ensure that “you’re wearing something that only a few people have.”
Avoiding the “white walls and track lighting” characteristic of a generic clothing store, Coffenberg has incorporated “funky things” like “antique sewing machines” to create an “industrial feel.”
Coffenberg and her husband have done all of the interior construction work on their own from the installation of eco-friendly lights to the painting of the deep chocolate-colored walls. She has found the labor-intensive experience “extremely rewarding” because she knows “exactly how it will turn out.”
She explained that a new boutique is “really exciting to launch” and hopes that her store will become a “hang out,” as if you were “shopping in your best friend’s closet.”