Small Change Consignment, a relic of Reston’s history and Bob Simon’s vision for the community, is closing its doors at historic Lake Anne Plaza on Saturday.
The children’s consignment shop — home to hundreds of items and the hearts of consigning families — has cemented its role in the community as a place to buy used clothing and a community gathering place. On a recent Wednesday evening, customers and friends came in to say goodbye to owner Susann Gerstein, 70, who has operated the shop for the last 37 years.
A group of teenagers lined up empty hangers in rainbow form — an organizational style Gerstein loves. She spent most of the night on Tuesday packing away clothes and coordinating donation drop-offs with local nonprofits.
Not much has changed since three young mothers and friends started the venture on Nov. 21, 1981 in the vacant offices of an optician across the lake. The friends embraced the dark interior — with its Marimekko wallpaper and lime green carpeting. Gerstein’s husband built wooden clothing stands. Gerstein stitched hand-sewn clothing tags.
The paint was still drying when the store first opened. From the first day, customers embraced the business as a place to buy used clothes, chat over the racks and build community. The store has averaged 1,200 consigning families annually.
Eighteen years later, the shop moved to its current location, giving it a bigger space to work with. Gerstein’s paper ledger and the same Rolodexes from its opening day sit on the counter.
“Friendships grow for me here and they’ve grown for me too,”Gerstein said. “That’s the hardest part of saying goodbye.” She said the store brought out the extroverted side of her otherwise introverted personality.
Rents, which had been steadily increasing over the years, skyrocketed this year, making it hard to make ends meet, Gerstein says.
“I tried and we just couldn’t make it work,” she said.
She describes herself as a Reston booster and a big believer in Simon’s vision. Her involvement with Cornerstones, a nonprofit organization that promotes self-sufficiency; the Reston Historic Trust & Museum; and other organizations is clear in the store. She was the founding president of the Reston Museum and helped found the Reston Historic Trust for Community Revitalization.
A Cornerstones donation jar sits on the counter and Gerstein often donates clothing to local nonprofits and domestic violence victims through various community partnerships.
Politics entered her shop following the November 2016 presidential election. Gerstein put up a sign, “Stop Tearing Families Apart” in the window of her storefront. She began selling “Hate Has No Home Here” signs. A fabric banner of children holding balloons — which was made by the friend in the original space — hangs from the ceiling. On weeknights, she tries to ride with members of Herndon-Reston Indivisible to hold lighted letters at the White House several times a month.
“I wanted my store to be a safe space for everyone. Some people didn’t like it but everyone knows where I stand,” Gerstein said.
After receiving calls from Doug Bernstein from popular toy-making company Melissa & Doug for years, Gerstein began having the toys in her shop. She stopped taking used toys after federal regulators raised questions about the quality of plastic and lead used in toys. Her husband built a Melissa & Doug grocery stand, which children often played with as their parents shopped in the store.
Gerstein says running the shop, which she has done since 2002, has been extremely fulfilling and exhilarating. As her last day of business comes near, she hopes to spend more time volunteering in the community, which she did not realize she would warm up to after moving from New York City in the late 1970s. Her grandchildren and three children plan to come from the city for a send-off on Saturday.
On a recent evening, she gazed across the lake to where Simon’s monumental figure sits on a bench. She says she’ll keep her website’s domain running if she finds another place like Lake Anne for the next generation of consigning moms.
“It’s so hard to let go.”