By Elly Murray
On Main Street in Blowing Rock, there’s a bright little fashion store that’s always happy and welcoming. Monkee’s has been open since 2001, when Wendy Burgette and her daughter Melissa White used to own it.
However, in 2012 Jess and Kenneth Wehrmann, a lovely young married couple, bought the store from them. Since then they’ve really changed how the store operates, and how involved it is in the Blowing Rock community.
Jess, an extremely bubbly and sweet young woman, used to work at the Monkee’s in Winston Salem, “since I was a sophomore at Wake Forest. Then after I graduated from Wake, I just stayed full time. So whenever this came up for sale we said, ‘Let’s go!’.”
Kenneth, the calm side to Jess’s outgoing nature, was working for a construction company out of Wilkesboro at the time. Jessica says that she had asked him, “Hey do you want to go buy a ladies shoe store?” and he’d said, “Yeah, okay!”
Monkee’s is a franchise with 25 stores across the Southeast, ranging from as far west as Texas to as far north as Kentucky. However, all of the stores are independently owned, and Jess explained that means that, “you’ll see different designers in every Monkee’s; we kind of cater to our own clients, which is nice. It gives us a bit of freedom.”
She went on to say that, “We all kind of have a similar vibe, and we all want to provide a personal shopping experience and a very homey feel.”
Previously, the store in Blowing Rock had been run as two separate stores; a clothing store and a shoe store. Jess describes that one of the first things they did was, “We did a massive renovation, and we combined the two stores, so it is now one entity.”
She explained that they felt it would help it have a more free flowing atmosphere, and customers would be able to explore the store with more ease.
Another thing they changed was what styles of clothing they purchased for their customers. Jess says that, “Whenever you’re buying for a store, you approach it in a couple of ways. You obviously reflect the style that you like, but you also look at what’s selling and what your clients are buying. You look at those numbers and you really tailor your buy to suit your customers. So what Kenneth and I did was we looked at our numbers…and we started really tailoring the store for what was selling….And it’s honestly been a really huge success.”
When asked what roles they both performed as owners of the store, Kenneth replied, “Being in a small business, we both wear any and all of the hats…we both buy together. I do a lot of the back of the house, the paperwork and receiving and inventory, and things of that nature.”
Jess continued his thought, saying, “But he also comes out on the floor and is an awesome salesperson. So yeah, we both go on buying trips, we’re both on the sales floor. I do not pay the bills—he does all of the back office work.”
Kenneth smiled at her and said, “Yeah, I try to do all of the stuff that keeps her out here, because that’s where she’s best-where she shines.”
Another huge change that the couple made was, as Kenneth says, “We also do a much more hands on approach…much more of a personal shopping experience, as opposed to just a buying situation.”
Jess elaborated saying, “Right, a sales approach. So, you know our sales associates are trained in product knowledge. They know how to put outfits together, and they’re encouraged to get to know the customers; know their dogs’ names, their children’s names. They’re encouraged to call them when designers come in that they know they’ll like, and just form more personal relationships with clients.”
Forming personal relationships with their clients is very integral to how the Wehrmanns run their store, because they really love being a part of their community. Kenneth is the incoming president of the Blowing Rock Rotary Club, and Jess is on the Board of Directors at the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce.
The pair really love to see the town thriving, and Jess is particularly excited for a few of the beautification projects going on: “We have a lot of beautiful things happening, like the Laurel Street project. That beautification project is awesome, and I think hopefully they’re starting on Sunset at some point.”
As members of the community, the Wehrmanns try as much as they can to give back. As Jess describes, “So Kenneth and I try to donate as much as possible throughout the year, to as many people and non-profits as possible. Whether it’s the Humane Society, the In/Visible Theatre….we really believe in giving back to the community that has supported us for six years, and the more that we support Blowing Rock, the more that Blowing Rock is going to support us.”
In addition to the donations they make throughout the year, the Wehrmanns also have two big sales per year, at the end of each fashion season. As Jess says, “The first huge sale that we’ll do is at the end of what’s called the summer season. So it will be the first of July, and that will be where we clear out all of the spring shoes and we’ll start getting in fall shoes. And then the next big sale will be at the end of the fall season, which is actually at the end of December, and then we’ll start bringing in all of the spring shoes.”
She added jokingly, “So, the fashion seasons do not follow the weather seasons at all!”
The Wehrmanns are excited for the summer fashions that are trending right now, which according to Jess, includes stars. “I have no idea why,” she laughed. “Stars are everywhere right now, whether it’s on your shoes, in your jewelry, or in your clothing. I like to think it’s a bigger picture; it’s a bigger world out there than just us.”
The snappy dresser was wearing stars herself when she said this, on her shoes and as her earrings.
She also mentioned that pastels are trending right now, and in fact will continue to trend into fall. She advises to, “pick up some pastels now and you can just transition them into fall as well; nice lavenders, blushes, those peachy tones, those will be really good for fall too.”
Jess also mentioned that sneakers, mules, and any vintage items are trending right now. However, something that’s already been trending for a little bit is the little woven basket bags. The Wehrmanns thought those were pretty costal for our area, so, according to Jess, they decided to try, “These cute little wooden clutches that we bought for the store. They’re kind of similar to that, but more our style, for the mountains.”
Jess says that her favorite things in their store are these beautiful earrings that look like colorful, tiny angel wings, made by Mignonne Gavigan. She was originally a North Carolina local, and Jessica mentioned that, “She now lives in New York, and all of her jewelry is made in India.”
When asked what they felt was the most important part of being store owners, Jess replied, “Building relationships. I mean, we really think that’s important, for our longevity. We plan on being here for a long time.”
That’s such a lovely picture to imagine; Jess and Kenneth growing old together in beautiful Blowing Rock, always giving back to their community, and laughing and talking with everyone that walks through their doors. This pair really has become such an integral and kind part of the community in such a short time, and I have a feeling that they will continue to do so for quite a while.