The new Main Street Exchange store along Lincoln Highway East near Gordonville is a sleek, modern looking women’s clothing store with racks and tables of attractive displays.
It’s not immediately clear at first, but the store with its own clothing line has a special appeal for some Lancaster County residents.
Specifically, the store appeals to many Lancaster County Mennonite women who wear long, modest skirts and can be frustrated when searching in typical stores.
“This is a big skirt-wearing community. Skirts are a thing. They’re hard to find,” says Jenn Smucker, a former nurse who was raised Mennonite in southern Indiana and moved to Lancaster County about 15 years ago.
One of Smucker’s friends actually built a business around the local sartorial subculture, selling used skirts by appointment from the basement of her Bowmansville home.
A year after quitting her own job as a nurse eight years ago to become a stay-at-home mom, Smucker bought her friend’s business, moving it to a small storefront in Goodville.
Smucker added new skirts to the offerings and within months moved the store to a larger spot in Blue Ball.
In the years since, Smucker has found new customers online as she expanded her offerings through her own line of modest skirts.
“To me it is kind of a normal business, but it is a specialty, and I know that’s why we’ve survived as a small business for so long because we’re selling something you can’t just find anywhere,” Smucker said.
A religious niche
Long, denim skirts — what Smucker calls a “homeschool mom skirt” — are among the staples at Main Street Exchange. Denim skirt overalls also are a top seller along with a wide variety of long, attractively styled skirts.
In addition, Main Street Exchange sells some dresses, sweaters and tops, including layering tank tops with a high neckline. There also are knee-length athletic skorts, which are shorts underneath skirt panels.
Over the years, Smucker said she added to her inventory in response to customer requests, launching her own line of clothing when she couldn’t find anything suitable on the market.
“We try to keep skirts knee length or longer. That’s where the specialty comes in,” she said.
Most of Main Street Exchange’s own clothing line is made by manufacturers in China, although Lancaster Sewing Co., based in New Holland, still makes some of the clothing, including the skorts.
Initially focused on local customers from religious communities, Main Street Exchange now gets more than half of its sales through online orders, with Jewish communities in New York and Mormon customers in Utah becoming core customers for its conservative clothes.
Through targeted Facebook advertising, Main Street Exchange has specifically reached out to many of those customers.
“If we’re targeting those certain religious groups, they’re going to buy. And it worked,” she said.
Since members of the Amish church usually make their own clothes, Smucker said they are not big customers of the store, even though they do stop in to look and sometimes buy athletic skorts.
Spreading the word online
Despite its conservative approach, Main Street Exchange has built its business through some creative modern marketing.
In addition to using targeted Facebook ads, Smucker said she has paid social media “influencers” to promote her clothes to their Instagram followers, something she says “really works.”
Smucker says redesigning her website, redoing a logo and regularly posting professionally taken photos has increased sales, especially online.
A big boost came about four years ago when, Smucker said, a photo of Main Street Exchange’s Skye skirt went viral on Pinterest.
“I always say I don’t know how people back in the day ever grew a business because they didn’t have social media yet,” she says. “We rely so much on that to spread the word.”
Today, Smucker says online sales account for about half of the business, with retail sales from her own store making up around 40%, and 10% coming from wholesale orders to other stores that sell modest clothing.
While online sales have been growing fastest, Smucker said having a new store was important because this area has a lot of customers who want to see the clothes before they buy them.
“This is a big skirt-wearing community in Lancaster County,” she says. “It’s still best if you can try something on.”
Smucker and her husband, Dale, who live near Smoketown, bought the property at 3000 Lincoln Highway East in May for $500,000.
Then they oversaw a major renovation to what had previously been the home of Killer Hats, which sold hats, boots and belts. Smucker declined to estimate the project’s cost.
The move from 4312 Division Highway, East Earl, doubled Main Street Exchange’s space to 8,000 square feet, making more room for both the sales floor and warehouse. The business has 12 employees.
Store hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
Since the store opened Nov. 1, the 39-year-old Smucker has stepped back from day-to-day management so she can spend more time with her three young children, who range in age from 1 to 9.
Yet she still comes to the store one day a week and remains involved with coming up with new designs.
“With our design ideas, we try to take something that is on trend in the ‘normal’ world and turn it into a skirt version,” she says. “And it usually works out well.”