A Caravan of Delightful Wares
My hometown of North Tonawanda has witnessed its share of improvements over the last few years, and people are starting to take notice. Webster St. has become a tiny nucleus of cultural exchange between art, food, and fashion, pulling in more thrifty, museum-hopping millennials like myself who once thought they had to journey to the city for a fix. The truth is that the quiet little canal town is actually a really hip place to start a new business. I recently decided to revisit one of these cool places to be, Hip Gypsy, a small bohemian-chic boutique. It’s been a while since I stopped in last, so I was curious to learn of any new changes.
The space looked a bit different, in a good way. Once a family affair (she shared the business with her sister), Hip Gypsy was now the solo ambition of Holly Rankie, whose blonde, beach-dried waves fell around her luminous face. She greeted me in a friendly pitch and was very receptive of my comments and questions. Holly carries herself with the air of a bohemian Betsey Johnson, a designer who turns out to be, among others, like Ralph Lauren and Johnny Wass, one of her favorite style icons. “She’s very sac-religious as far as the runway. Everyone’s so serious,” she said of runway fashion (What a treat it is to meet someone who shares a love as strong as mine for Betsey Johnson, let me tell you!). Holly opened up shop in North Tonawanda four years ago and has prospered ever since. “Nothing was ever really planned,” the boutique owner, who started out designing wedding gowns in her 20s, said of the undertaking.
A great little piece of fashion paradise, the Hip Gypsy is. It’s like walking into a fit of madness Ms. Betsey Johnson herself left in her tracks: a shower of ruffles and rhinestones, badass rock n’ roll memorabilia, and embellished steampunk displays. Everything appeared more spaced out and accessible, but the gypsy feel was the same. All of the accessories in Hip Gypsy, from the hand-painted boots to the emblazoned biker jackets, have a little magic in them. They are truly one-of-a-kind pieces worthy of any free-spirited gypsy gal’s affection. “I don’t care how old (my customers) are, they like it, the ruffles and rhinestones,” she said. Bruce Verbeck glass and Ray Robinson leather jackets are a few of the designs she carries, and many of the imports are fair trade or aren’t imports at all, but rather fashion straight from the west coast. “I love that LA is becoming a bigger clothing manufacturer,” Holly said as we gushed over some dresses and vests she pulled out. Most clothing and accessories fall between $5 and $300 in price, depending on how delicate.
For Holly, interior design comes second-nature. Vintage wall décor, including a framed photo of young Holly posing with her boys in a barn (so awesomely 80s chic), fun color schemes, airy drapery from the ceiling—everything–exuded a gypsy lifestyle. “I think of myself as a gypsy. I’ve lived many different lives,” the former nurse said of her store motif. And when you’ve lived many lives, you collect many things along the way. There is always something new to unravel and unlock in the boutique—a new treasure, a new look, a new visitor, and sometimes new friendships. Holly regularly meets many traveling and residential artists and musicians, who come to her shop bearing their sometimes irresistible wares. One recent visitor, she tells me, was a man we will refer to as “The LA Soul Father of Rock,” who presented a sculpted and tooled, leather-bound “portfolio” book that blew the socks off the boutique owner.
When she’s not making new friends, she juggles several creative and charitable projects, like the annual Hip Gypsy fashion show, held at the Riviera Theatre right across the street. Right now, she’s preparing for the Downtown Merchant Association’s Winter Walk. She tells me that being a single parent has taught her how to manage this crazy, glorious life. “That’s how I learned everything, through supporting my children,” she said. “You have to change it up. Stay open to all good things. My kids are like that,” the proprietress said.
Before I left the shop my eyes were suddenly drawn to a woman’s painted bust standing proud in the corner, a riveting piece of Americana. I later learned that it was painted to commemorate her two horses, now passed (add equestrian to the list of lives she’s lived). Oh, she also makes her own jewelry. Tell me something this woman doesn’t do! I ended up buying a really kitschy but cool bejeweled “clown” ring, Betsey Johnson-approved. She placed the ring in a tiny blue jewelry bag, decked out in sparkly gold flowers, before handing it to me. “Even the bags are cute,” I said. “You think of everything!” She smiled. Just another day in the life of a gypsy dreamer.
For more gypsy dreamin’ check out Holly’s website.