Mon. Jul 4th, 2022

Photo by Olivia Carzo.

A mix of small-town charm and cosmopolitan living, downtown West Chester is an area nestled behind West Chester University that students eventually find themselves calling their “home away from home.” Desert-red and brown brick buildings, cobblestone sidewalks and small outdoor tables allow for leisurely coffee breaks and people-watching. The downtown area encapsulates the vibrancy and rich culture of city living, making visitors feel that they’ve stepped into another world beyond the acres of land and buildings reserved for the university’s campus.

Locals and visitors alike can find an array of restaurants, bars, antique shops and, most importantly, an assortment of brick-and-mortar boutiques scattered on every block. However, one unassuming clothing store, named May 23 and located on West Gay Street, combines the eclectic elements of music and fashion to bring a cooler and, plainly speaking, less stuffy vibe to the West Chester borough.

Customers can be greeted inside the quaint, cozy clothing store by May 23’s owner, Steve, and his adorable Yorkshire Terrier, Atticus — sometimes, you can see him as you walk past the store window resting in his bed propped by the windowsill! As a store settled in a college town, most of May 23’s clothing inventory reflects the tastes of the typical 20-something, especially as retro trends of the 90s/2000s have amassed major popularity among Gen-Z consumers.

“Everyday is different,” said Steve. “We have a wide variety [of customers] from middle school to 80 year olds. With the women’s and men’s clothes, the small gift items and the vinyl, there’s something for most people.”

Lately, Steve’s noticed a trend in customers purchasing velvet print mini dresses, printed flare pants, and oversized plaid flannels for the fall season. And, the vinyls sold on the shelf also reflect these influential eras for fashion and music.

“I try to cater to a variety of musical tastes, but there’s definitely a good mix of my own personal selections in there,” said Steve. “You’ll find a good amount of late 90s/early 2000s rock in there and random things like both of Lindsay Lohan’s albums and the 20th anniversary edition of Kidz Bop.” However, you can also find modern artists like Taylor Swift.

Photo by Olivia Carzo.

Most of Steve’s personal music collection can be heard playing throughout the store, which includes artists like Maisie Peters, Morgan Wade and the Arizona-based rock band Gin Blossoms. Fun fact: Gin Blossoms’ drummer Scott Hessel happens to be “best friends” with Steve’s furry co-owner, and can be seen rocking a shirt and hoodie with Atticus’s name and picture blazoned on the front.

So, how did May 23 come to be? Well, Steve originally started out as a computer science graduate from Ithaca College, where he spent time working as a software engineer and was recruited out of college to work in King of Prussia and placed in corporate housing in West Chester. According to a past press release on his store, he was eventually laid off from his job and began to run May 23 as an online t-shirt store in 2008.

“I kind of fell into the storefront we are in now,” he said. “I had been upstairs in the building for a couple of years, running May 23 as an online store, when Susan, who owned Eat Drink Om, moved her yoga studio down the street and needed someone to take over the lease.”

He mentions that owning a clothing store grew from his hobby of printing t-shirts for the Big Wheel Pub Crawls he used to organize in town, which eventually evolved into running a full-time boutique, established Feb. 12, 2013 as a brick and mortar shop.

“I guess all those years of my mom taking me to the fabric store and clothes shopping with her paid off,” he said.

He describes his typical day-to-day store procedures as: “like something exploded.” From editing photos for the store’s website, keeping up with the latest music for the store, packing, stocking shelves and even giving Atticus frequent daily walks, Steve somehow manages to maintain all of these responsibilities on his own.

“As small as the store is, there is always something to do.”

Luckily, his routine didn’t change too drastically during the initial start of the pandemic, when many local businesses suffered financially due to the mandated lockdown, as he could continue to operate his store from their online site. One of the benefits to his online shop, he notes, is that in-person inventory can be rotated out and still be available for sale online.

He mentioned that the initial surge of support he received during the time when consumers were willing to purchase from small businesses had eventually ceased. However, as West Chester University was able to operate in person for the first time since the spring shutdown in 2020, businesses like May 23 were eager to greet students again.

“Every school year is different, but I think everyone is happy to be back and be able to go into shops and restaurants again.”

To shop for new inventory and to download May 23’s Spotify playlist (hint: you can purchase most of his music selections on vinyl copies in store!) be sure to check out www.may23online.com.


Nikki Haslett is a fifth-year English major with a minor in Journalism. NH890081@wcupa.edu

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