Interview by Mo Fink
Photography by Amara Hartman
You can’t walk by (b.) Resale without going in. Even when you’re short on cash and time, you make it work, if for nothing else than to catch up with the genuine staff running it. Allison Bross-White, the owner and visionary behind it, proves that every business is a pulpit, and her message is one of inclusion--and she means it.
From the bathroom stalls-turned-dressing rooms sharpied up by any person with a thought to share, to the pictures hanging behind the counter of Minneapolis natives of every color and background, her aim is to allow self expression in whatever freaky or vanilla form. We caught up over donuts and launched right into how her shop started.
When I quit target, I was the only person working at the shop seven days a week. When we moved down to this location, which will be four years already, I brought back my girl who I had worked with before [at previous location]. But the year we moved here, I also adopted a baby, so I stepped away a little bit and then I was back four days a week.
I think that’s part of the reason we’ve been open for 7 years--I’ve been so hands-on with it, but my staff’s awesome, and for me to be able to walk away from it and then come back when I’m ready is pretty nice.
I’m always here two days during the weekends and then also two days during the week, but now we just adopted another baby in November, and I’m only here Thursdays during the day and Saturdays and Sundays. So, I will hopefully be back to my four days eventually. It’s nice to be here Monday, Thursday, and then the weekend.
Mondays because it’s a good way to get the week started?
Yeah, when it’s your business, and you’re not here, things just aren’t as you want them to be. It’s not like the shop is falling apart, but you notice little things that only the owner will notice. I think that’s part of the reason we’ve been open for 7 years--I’ve been so hands-on with it, but my staff’s awesome, and for me to be able to walk away from it and then come back when I’m ready is pretty nice. I’d like to only have to be here if I wanted to be, and we’ll get there.
How did you pick your staff? Were they people you knew already?
Most are people I’ve kinda known in the scene. My main full-time girl who’s worked with me the longest--she doesn’t work here anymore--but I found her on a U of M internship job site when we opened the first location. I hired her as an intern and then she worked for me for almost three years. And then I stole someone from Potbelly once because she made a really good sandwich and was really friendly. But everyone else is people I have somewhat of a connection to because it’s hard turning over the keys and the safe combo to someone you don’t know and know that things are gonna be cool.
Does everyone who works there have the keys and safe combo?
Yeah because typically it’s one person at a time. Surprisingly, we’ve been able to manage with just one person at a time and maybe a couple hours of overlap. So everyone is basically a manager.
How long was your shop at the first location (54th and Nicollet)?
Was it the same name?
Where does the name come from?
[...] everyone thinks it’s b. Resale, but it’s really just (b.) It’s the start of my last name. And in hip hop culture people call each other “b” as a term of friendship or camaraderie and that tied in that we were street wear.
Everyone shot down my first name, "Used." They thought it sounded so negative.
Business counselors, family, friends. I don’t know. I’m a little bit more edgy than most people. I should have just went with it, but they say that businesses that have a connection with the owner’s name tend to be more successful. So going through all the ideas, I thought, "What if I just called it (b.)." Then my whole ad thing would be “(b.).” And everyone thinks it’s b. Resale, but it’s really just (b.) It’s the start of my last name. And in hip hop culture people call each other “b” as a term of friendship or camaraderie and that tied in that we were street wear. And then we would do things like “(b.) you” or “(b.) unique” because it was easy to make ads out of that letter.
Did you go to school for business?
I went for fashion merchandising out in LA.
Are you from LA?
I’m from here and then moved out there for school.
What’d you think of LA?
Out there it’s acceptable to buy and sell your clothes, but here (10 years ago) it hadn’t taken off yet.
I couldn’t stay there. I was there for maybe three years. I think now as an adult--that was 10 years ago--I could go back because I know the neighborhoods more, and I would pick a neighborhood and not leave it if I didn’t want to. I almost kept my apartment out there because it was such a good deal. I found this 2 bedroom, 2 story right in West Hollywood, a block to Santa Monica Boulevard, a couple blocks to Sunset, parking, patio, balcony for like $1200. I feel so stupid that I let it go, because I should shave kept it as a vacation home. I had found the girl on Craigslist and out there they have the same thing as New York where they can’t increase the rent unless it’s a new tenant. I moved in with a girl that had been living there and the rent was set at $1200. I think maybe when I took over the lease she upped it to $1400, but even then it was crazy. I sat in traffic for a while to go work in Santa Monica, and then I was like I can’t do this anymore. I got a job at the used clothing store literally 2 blocks away so I could walk to work. But there’s no people. No quality people, until you ingrain yourself there. I had my husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, and that was it. It’s hard to meet people.
I’ve heard the same thing from transplants who move to MN and end up hanging out with other transplants.
Because Minnesotans already have their circles.
I’m sure being out in LA and the fashion scene out there was influential.
That’s how I model my store. Out there it’s acceptable to buy and sell your clothes, but here (10 years ago) it hadn’t taken off yet. Our store out there was busy all the time.
I have a friend from LA who’s really into the vintage scene. You’re not so much vintage though.
I’m not that into it. We now have a vendor called Hoople Head Vintage. He’s a vintage collector and is on consignment at our store. He’ll drop off 200-400 pieces at a time, but he has a special price tag, and his prices are more expensive. Just like we have our plus-size girl who has her plus-size rack. And we do buy more plus sizes now because people have really taken to that.
When did the seed of b. Resale start?
I would have sales in my basement and friends would bring me clothes. And then when I finally signed a lease for my first spot, I went to Chicago and Milwaukee and went to all their resale stores just so I could make sure we had actual street wear.
Probably when I was out there (LA) working at the used store. It’s called Crossroads Trading Company. So they’re like Buffalo’s competitor. They’re great. Their stores are really organized. I can’t go thrifting. I get stressed out from stuff being wherever. Originally I thought I would own a music venue. Part of my classes were business plans, and once you start doing the financials and all of that on a restaurant or anything with alcohol, the cost of entry is just--you have to have millions to open whereas you do the financials to open a used clothing store and it’s such a low cost of entry. I was like, “OK, this is easy to get into.” And it’s more in line with our lifestyle in terms of being earth-friendly and recycling and that kind of stuff. And it’s Minnesota and people love recycling and earth-friendly clothes, and it all fell into place.
So when you first opened, did you get a bunch of merchandise by picking it out from Goodwill to fill up your store?
I did, and I would have sales in my basement and friends would bring me clothes. And then when I finally signed a lease for my first spot, I went to Chicago and Milwaukee and went to all their resale stores just so I could make sure we had actual street wear. I paid more money than I wanted to for stuff, but I rented a big truck, filled it up and brought it back.
What’s been the most difficult part of owning your own business
Staffing. I got really lucky the first three or four years, but the past couple years have been a struggle. Also this past year, I’ve been called out a lot on the political shit from all sides. Since that stuff has been happening for the past year or two there have been some moments where I was like, “I could just lock the door,” because I don’t need that added negative energy in my life.
Some people think I make a ton of money, but I don’t make a ton of money. It’s more an act of community service than a paycheck.
Are people posting on your social media?
And private messaging me or coming into my store.
Are they customers?
Yeah, and random people.
So you’ve then had to confront people one-on-one about your beliefs. That’s refreshing though to be able to have that dialogue in person. They still probably aren’t open, but instead of all that over the internet, cowardly, name-calling shit. Has it ever gotten super heated?
For me, it’s my responsibility to have this conversation and also be able to take the criticism. And also to be able to speak my piece too, because you can’t say this stuff about me and not expect me to try to defend that I’m not out here for the wrong reasons. And I’m not making a ton of money. Some people think I make a ton of money, but I don’t make a ton of money. It’s more an act of community service than a paycheck. So that’s been hard the past year. And even appropriation, everyone is sensitive to this stuff because of what’s been happening. So, I met up with some customers and talked about how we could address appropriation. It’s all under a level of respect. What are their issues and as a business owner saying, “Here’s the line I’m comfortable with.”
What a cool way to hear other people’s points of view that you wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise. People don’t really volunteer that information much unless they feel like you can take it in.
And people do feel like they can approach me. And I feel like our store is such a great place. I’m a safe space for everyone. I sell a ton of local stuff. Do you want me to take that space away from our community? Because I could but I also don’t want to always be on the defense.
And other consignment stores aren’t getting criticism like you because they’re not making a stand for anything. Once you make a stand, it’s a damned if you do damned if you don’t situation going forward.
It goes all ways. I had a white woman come up to me at First Avenue, and she was like, “I love your store, but some white women don’t feel comfortable there.” And I was like, “Well can’t they just be OK with that? Can’t they be OK with having one store in town that makes them feel uncomfortable? Because think about how you feel there. Other people feel that way everywhere else.” And she was like, “Oh.” She took it in. We have to be OK with it. I have to be OK with uncomfortable situations because that’s what we’re doing.
It’s good to feel that way and see how someone else feels for a little bit. How do you stay inspired when you get into a rut?
I feel like a lot of that is... I like to call them “the youth.” Young kids. I’m 38 now and most of my staff now is in their mid-20s. I hang out with them in the shop, but I try to see them in the outside world. They’re connected with the fresh stuff coming up in the city, whereas I’m gonna go see Talib Kweli. They’re gonna go see new people who I don’t even know what songs they sing. They give me a freshness. Also music.
What have you been listening to lately?
I can’t stop listening to that new Brother Ali because it’s so positive. I’ve been bad. I’ve been going back to 90s R&B and Apple playlist keeps adding new R&B, and my staff keeps coming in and being like, “Why are you listening to cheesy love songs?” But it’s like Gallant (I think that’s what his name is)--it’s all R&B love songs, party next door kinda guy. Solange. It’s smoothed out.
Baby-making kinda stuff.
When do you feel most feminine?
All the time.
I’ve always been the rule breaker.
I’ve been set in myself for a while, like early 20’s. But once I hit 33 and on, I’ve never felt sexier. It’s so weird. I think it’s because I’m settled into my life. My husband and I have been together forever. We have two kids. The store is running. I feel like I’m surrounded by strong women. I’m settled into the life. It’s funny because I was like, “I hope it’s cold at soundest so I don’t have to wear shorts.” But if it’s hot out, I’ll totally wear shorts. Just wear it. It's weird how it’s such a mindfuck.
It is. You have to give yourself permission to do that.
Yeah, and people like Lizzo--who’s been our it-girl since our old store--are inspiring. Seeing her make it big now and how sexy she feels in her body. Mica is a leader of the Black Lives Movement. If you see someone on the freeway on a cop car shutting down the freeway, that’s her.
She’s leading the movement rocking a crop top. She’s hot. You start to see women like that who are just comfortable with themselves and you start to think “If she can wear that, I can wear that.” Lizzo’s been huge for me to realize, “Oh, I can wear this.” It just takes one person.
I think a lot of people think women will just roll over, including other women, and won’t do the confrontation, which is totally not my style.
You kinda answered this already, but when did you start to own your femininity? It sounds like you’ve always had a strong sense of self.
Yeah, I have. I’ve always been the rule breaker. Getting into gay bars at 17 and 18 and dancing until 3AM. You can’t help but feel sexy around a bunch of gay men. High school was miserable. I grew up in a small town in Minnesota, and I came up to the cities in high school to go to an arts school.
Yeah, Perpich. And I only went for a year because everyone there is just trying to outdo the weirdness.
I’ve heard terrible things about that place.
Yeah, I went from being at a school where I was the freak to a school where everyone was a freak, and we were all trying out-freak each other, and I wasn’t into it. And Perpich is a great school because it’s free, and you can focus on your art, but there it’s like people want the shine. And I never needed the shine. But then I went to the University of Minnesota a year early, which is also really silly because then you’re in a dorm and a year younger than everybody, and everyone is drinking and partying. So it took getting out of there. And really, when I walked into the Gay 90's, I was like, “Oh, I’m home. Give me a feather boa and put me on a block and I’m set.” And it was that that set it off.
What’s your favorite thing about being a woman?
I have no idea. Besides boobs? Being in touch with my emotions. I’m super emotional. And not that guys can’t have that too. But the extra sensitivity that women can have and wanting to care for people.
What pressures do you feel from society as a woman in the business world and expressing and owning your femininity?
I think a lot of people think women will just roll over, including other women, and won’t do the confrontation, which is totally not my style. The other thing is, and I think this is going to sound opposite of how most women would answer, but I’ve never really found women’s business groups--or advertising in women’s press--necessary. I don’t need to declare that I’m a woman in business. I’m just in business.
I get that feel from you in this interview--that first and foremost you’re a person.
Yeah, so I’ve never needed all these women to gather. I’m open, they’re open. We’re just doing it. And people are like, “Don’t you wanna come to all this shit?” And I’m like, “Actually, no.” I think it’s exhausting. But I’ll promote your business. And my whole block is women in business. But I don’t wanna go to one more meeting and give each other pats on the back for being a woman in business.
It reminds me of an organized religion or a church where it’s like once you start making these groups you have these party lines you need to follow instead of having actual organic relationships with women--the real shit of it. That's the meat and potatoes, not the meetings.
That’s another thing for me. I promote tons of things in town. Concerts, businesses. And I don’t expect anyone to do the same. I’m just promoting dope shit. I don’t expect you to do it for me. I’m just doing it. People are like, “Oh, there's a new thrift store open, and it looks blah blah blah.” And I’m like, “Cool!” There’s room for all of us. Because if this whole block was thrift stores and boutiques, we would make more money. That’s why there’s malls. People want a destination.
I reach out to people and all I need to hear is affirmation that the space is needed, and I’ll keep doing the work...
In moments of self-doubt, how do you rebuild yourself?
I reach out to friends. Like my best friends. Because with this store it makes me laugh when people think I make a ton of money. I pay my staff, and some months I don’t pay myself at all. I have the liberty of having a husband who has a normal corporate job. This [money] doesn’t have to go home and pay my rent. When I was like, “We have two babies, can they both go into daycare?” My husband was like, “How much is daycare? Oh, yeah no, cuz you don’t bring that much home from the shop.” But when there’s days when I’m like, “Fuck. I haven’t paid myself in a couple months." And then on top of that, I have the egos to stroke and this other shit that's been bothering me since I’ve been so open about the politics, then I reach out to people and all I need to hear is affirmation that the space is needed, and I’ll keep doing the work because I have the liberty to do that. And not a lot of people are able to have a space open and not have it support them. And they remind me that I’m employing people and mentoring them.
Which leads me to my last question: how do you define success? It sounds like you have a really cool definition of success.
Is it purposeful? For me, the whole purpose of us, as humans, is to make the world better. I had infertility issues, so I couldn’t have a kid, but if we don’t replace ourselves then they’re winning. (This is my pro-baby speech). Because the people who are awful tend to have more babies than the really cool people. Like my successful, liberal friends who hate Tinder don’t have babies. And I’m like, “But you’re so smart, and you need to pass the knowledge on.” And that’s one way. Now I have my sons who I can make better people. They’re gonna be better than me. And they’ll hopefully go out into the world and do good things. For my shop, I look at the relationships. Am I mentoring and growing my staff? Not just career-wise but as humans. And do I have the space where people can feel comfortable? And the more affirmations I have of that, and as long as I can make rent and pay my staff, we’re good. That’s what it’s there for.
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