Reston, VA

Monday Morning Notes

Flash Flood Warning in Effect — A flash flood warning is in effect for the area until 11:15 a.m. today. Drivers are encouraged to avoid flooded roads or roads with standing water. [Fairfax Alerts]

Lane and Ramp Closures This Week — Several roads, including Herndon Parkway, Edmund Halley Drive, and Sunrise Valley Drive will be closed for several hours this week due to construction on phase two of the Silver Line. All lane and ramp closures depend on the weather. [Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project]

The End of Small Change Consignment at Lake Anne Plaza — Susann Gerstein, owner of Small Change Consignment at Lake Anne Plaza, closed her business, which opened in late 1981. [The Connection]

Man Arrested for Threatening Reston Hospital Center Staff — Brian Baker, 47, was arrested on July 2 fro assault and disorderly conduct. Police said he threatened hospital staff and spat on a police officer. [Fairfax County Police Department]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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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.

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(Updated at 9:30 on April 8) After 38 years at Lake Anne Plaza, Small Change Consignment is set to close its doors on June 29 at 5 p.m.

Shop Owner Susann Gerstein told Reston Now that she opened the shop at the age of 32 with her two friends Kathy Paolini and Margaret Johnson. (Paolini retired in 1989, followed by Johnson in 2002.)

As young moms, the three women wanted to provide families with affordable toys and clothes at Lake Anne Plaza — what Gerstein calls “the heart and soul of Reston.”

“From the beginning, we were hoping to create a community space for families to shop and play and chat and that has been my biggest satisfaction, because it really has turned out that way,” Gerstein said. “It is a true community space.”

The shop originally opened in the space that Dogma Bakery now occupies before moving to its current and larger spot at 1629 N. Washington Plaza.

Even with twice the space, Small Change is nearly bursting with rows of kids’ and maternity clothing and toys, including a large selection of ones from Melissa and Doug. Right next to the front door is the Best of Reston award that the shop won in 1992.

Fast forward nearly 40 years, a “skyrocketed” rent is the reason for the closure in June, which Gerstein announced at the end of a panel on International Women’s Day (March 8).

When asked about the upcoming closure by a customer in the shop today (April 4), Gerstein described it as part of the life cycle of businesses at the plaza.

She is hopeful, though, that the store can survive at a different location under new owners.

“There are so many people who want us to stay open,” Gerstein said, adding that people should keep an eye on the Facebook page for the next few months after the shop closes for any announcements about a re-opening elsewhere.

People can drop off clothes to sell through the third week of April.

The shop also has a range of discounts, which will increase as the closing date nears, Gerstein said. Toys are nearly 40 percent off and winter clothes are 80 percent off. Spring and summer attire will have pop-up sales on different days that will get announced on Facebook

“It’s been such a great adventure,” Gerstein said.

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Classic Reston banner

Classic Reston is a biweekly feature sponsored by the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce that highlights businesses, places and people with deep roots in Reston.

Before there was a widespread movement to buy local, reuse and recycle, there was Small Change Consignments.

In 1981, Susann Gerstein was a New York transplant with young children who found herself with time on her hands and an idea. Kids grow out of their toys and clothes so fast — why was there no children’s consignment store in Reston?

Gerstein teamed with two friends, and they opened Small Change at Lake Anne Plaza, unsure of what kind of reception they would find.

“This was before people even recycled newspapers,” she said. “But they knew garage sales. We were the only game in town — there was no eBay, no Reston Town Center, no discount stores.”

Dolls at Small Change Consignments/Credit: Small ChangeThe store was successful from the start, says Gerstein. Thirty-two years later, the two other founding partners have moved on, the store has moved to a bigger spot at Lake Anne Plaza and the second generation of consignment shoppers and sellers are the new store regulars.

That includes Gerstein’s own now-grown children, who bring their three children by for some Grandma time among the kids’ stuff.

“It’s paradise when they come here,” she said.

Small Change is stocked — even crammed — with kids items, which are generally half of what you would pay retail. There is everything from everyday play clothes to high-end designer wear from Burberry. In winter, North Face jackets are a top seller, Gerstein says. In summer, shoppers are always looking for Keen sandals. Always in demand are pricey strollers (you can get your name on a waiting list if you are in the market for one).

Consignments (great condition only, please) are by appointment, and you can bring in about 25 items at a time. Consigners get a 50/50 split for items selling under $100; a 60/40 split for items over $100 (60 percent to the consigner). The consignment period is two months — you can shop against your credit balance or take cash at the end.

Small Change also carries new items — mostly toys and handmade goods. The store has a wide selection of Melissa and Doug wooden toys and puzzles, Bruder trucks and Guycraft toys. Local crafters make knitted dolls, baby blankets and other gift items.

Gerstein says she is eager to see what changes come to Lake Anne Plaza in the years ahead. She admits the plaza suffers from a lack of foot traffic, particularly in winter. The historic plaza won’t change much under the proposed revitalization plan, but redevelopment of nearby Crescent Apartments and the periphery of Lake Anne should bring more people to the area to live and to shop, she predicts.

“I am delighted [revitalization] is a go,” she said. “This will be a long process, though. It could take 8 to 10 years. I may still be here, but I can’t promise. But I only see positives with the changes. “

Small Change Consignments is located at 1629 Washington Plaza. The store is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. To make a consignment appointment, call (703) 437-7730. For more info, visit the store’s website or Facebook page.

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