Preserving a Local Legacy
For small communities like Mount Vernon, there’s a special value in preserving a local legacy. Bauman’s has sat on the corner of 2nd Ave. S and 1st St. SW selling men’s formal dresswear since 1909. When it went up for sale in 2018, local couple Olivia and Josh Randall knew it was worth a shot.
The couple had lived in the area for several years, and Josh had even shopped there. Therefore, the couple had seen firsthand the importance and success of Bauman’s and decided to combine their past experiences to take over its operations.
“We thought it would be fun and interesting,” Olivia said. “We’re very excited about the transition of the business because any time a long-tenured business doesn’t close, it’s very exciting for its customers to see it keep going and serving the next generation.”
A former teacher, Olivia worked in retail to put herself through grad school, while Josh comes from a family of small business owners, making them the perfect pair to maintain Bauman’s legacy. After officially purchasing the business in 2019, they got right to work remodeling with extra care put towards preserving the building’s historic features.
It began with minor improvements and refurbishments to combine modernity with historic charm. They fixed up the front façade, its original front doors and glass above, and restored the wood floors, while leaving the beautiful quarter sewn oak cabinets and working suit racks untouched. Finally, the Randalls remodeled the loft area, expanding the women’s boutique and tripling its inventory.
Olivia then connected with the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) and Bauman’s became a certified Targeted Small Business (TSB), a program that’s designed to help women, minorities, disabled veterans and individuals with disabilities start or grow a small business in Iowa.
Just when everything seemed to be falling into place, COVID-19 swept the country and forced businesses to temporarily close their doors. Bauman’s was no exception but managed to survive with the help of Shop Iowa, an online marketplace supported by IEDA that provides an e-commerce presence for small retailers and allows customers to support local businesses in a new way.
“It’s an amazing website and it’s so cool to have all these businesses that have banded together to say, ‘Here we are, small businesses in Iowa, and there’s so much variety in what we have to offer,’” Olivia said. “When you’re shopping on Shop Iowa, you’re supporting families and small-town dreams, people who work really hard to bring retail to the state.”
After persevering through a nationally historic event, Bauman’s unlocked its doors and many possibilities with it. After winning the IEDA’s statewide 2021 Open 4 Business pitch contest and receiving a $20,000 grant for further renovations, the Randalls are spending this spring converting the building’s basement into a full shoe department, adding running shoes and hiking boots to their inventory. They’re also using the funds to improve their marketing efforts and work with local chiropractors and physical therapists to help people find proper footwear.
In the meantime, Bauman’s is working through a transition from an old school cash register to a new digital point of sales tracking system and connecting with younger generations through its wedding business and custom suits program.
As Bauman’s maintains its reputation as a prestigious clothing store and unique community staple, the Randalls are also maintaining its legacy as a place where people feel welcomed during and after their visit.
“Customer service has always been a cornerstone of making Bauman’s successful,” Olivia said. “It’s so important to make people feel special when they walk into our business and to offer expertise and knowledge in helping them find what they’re looking for.”