Why this 'Across Broad' retail collaboration represents the future of retail | Elizabeth Wellington

LEFT: Shoes by Elena Brennan are photographed at her Bus Stop Boutique on South 4th St. with an exclusive cloak that Ethan Nguyen of MConcept on South St. RIGHT: A long black dress by Ethan Nguyen is photographed at his MConcept on South St. with shoes that Elena Brennan of Bus Stop Boutique on South 4th St. The two Philadelphia stores are bridging the Broad Street divide December 4, 2107, by offering each other's customers exclusives from both of their collections. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

Bus Stop Boutique owner Elena Brennan, and Ethan Nguyen, founder of M Concept Shop, have been chummy for years, and they love to shop at each other’s specialty stores.

Nguyen, a 34-year-old enterprising millennial, considers himself a caped retail crusader  who is happiest when his footwear sparkles. Brennan, the city’s 59-year-old doyenne of must-have oxfords —I think Brennan single-handedly brought them back in style thanks to her three-year-old Bus Stop X collection — is all about the monochromatic flow.

If both of these South Street entrepreneurs — Bus Stop is on Fourth Street just above South, and M Concept is on the 1500 block of South Street — are willing to venture across the great Broad Street divide, then surely their customers will too.

Hence their new “Across Broad” retail collaboration.

Here is how it will work: Nguyen chooses four signature looks from his private-label M Concept X collection — the inaugural pieces: an oatmeal-and-denim duster and two cozy asymmetrical ponchos — for Brennan to sell exclusively at Bus Stop. The deal is so exclusive, in fact, that Nguyen won’t even offer them at M Concept.

Camera icon Tom Gralish
Elena Brennan in her Bus Stop Boutique with exclusive cloaks from Ethan Nguyen of M Concept. The two Philadelphia stores are bridging the Broad Street divide by offering customers exclusives from their collections.

In return, Brennan hands over three of her signature slip-on oxfords for Nguyen’s customers only. This month’s color-blocked group includes a denim-and-metallic shoe, a black and-white-style, as well as a pinstripe-on-black shoe.

“We thought this would be a great way to bring our customers together,” said Nguyen. “We are pretty much telling the same story of today’s modern woman.”

Camera icon
Ethan Nguyen at his M Concept Shop with clothing  and shoes  that Elena Brennan of Bus Stop Boutique has designed for him to sell.

“It makes sense to offer a head-to-toe shopping experience to help shoppers enhance their wardrobes,” Brennan said.

Not only does this collaboration make perfect retail sense, I’m sure we will be seeing a lot more of it in 2018.

Last year was  brutal for retailers big and small. Many of our favorite specialty haunts, like Knit Wit, Third Street Habit, and Coeur were forced to close because of the double whammy of rising rents and online shopping. Those who managed to stay in the game, like Joan Shepp, the venerable owner of her eponymous boutique, as well as newcomers like Joey Clark, the 31-year-old owner of Kin, are working with local merchants to enhance their offerings.

In December, Shepp began selling vintage clothing in her Chestnut Street store, pulling from little-known resale shops throughout Pennsylvania. Clark opened her store touting several collaborations, including one with jeweler Joie DiGiovanni and local candlemaker and Drexel student Jeffrey Rosen, owner of Rose & Co.

Knit Wit owner Ann Gitter recently shared with me her desire to open a new store in Center City, but only if she’s able to find the right collaboration. Times are different, she says, “The stores we used to compete with we are now working with to survive.”

“Collabs can take a lot of different forms right now,” Gitter added. “I mean, Urban Outfitters bought Mark Vetri’s business. We are all trying to figure out if it makes to sense to put coffee shops in our clothing stores. The future is definitely about working together.”

M Concept Shop is at 1540 South St.;  215-839-9154. Bus Stop Boutique is  at 727 S. Fourth St.; 215-627-2357