Her name isn’t Martha. But she’s become as synonymous with the Vineyard Haven consignment store as if she was selling clothing out of her own closet. She’s there all the time, and speaks of her employees like they’re family.
Before she found consignment, Margaret (Mags) Mirko worked as a painter, a bartender, a cleaner, a chef and a gutter installer. While working as a pastry chef at the Hudson River Club in Manhattan, her friend Leslie Graham asked her to come try the Island for a summer.
Many years later, Ms. Mirko runs Martha’s Closet and Ms. Graham operates the Lobsterville Bar and Grille on the Oak Bluffs harbor.
“When we came here we had nothing, and now we’ve both got businesses and homes,” she said. “Isn’t that cool? We’re still here.”
Six years ago, Ms. Mirko and her former business parter, Janice Gulland, were forced to close Martha’s Closet II, a children’s consignment shop, because of a new law that made business owners liable for any items sold that were recalled for safety reasons.
But the women’s shop has flourished. Ms. Mirko is now the sole proprietor of the business which has quickly grown out of its space. While it is substantially bigger than a closet, it’s still small. But Ms. Mirko owns the space so she is unlikely to move out any time soon. “It’s small, but we pack it in,” she said. While browsing, clients dance around each other, before spotting something they like, and wrenching it free from the other clothing hung tightly beside it. Christmas lights shaped like red peppers outline the front window, and photographs of Marilyn Monroe share wall space with Jimi Hendrix and Elvis.
What the store lacks in rack space, it makes up in parking availability, a requirement of a consignment business. A place to park means consignors can unload the clothes out of their back seat and bring them in for resale. The Closet thrives in the symbiotic environment of the Tisbury Marketplace, Ms. Mirko says. “Every business feeds off the others,” she said. “It’s nice — pizza, fish, restaurant, me, the barbershop, people come and they do everything. I don’t really need to advertise, people just come in.”
On a recent evening, minutes before closing time, a customer asked for the evening hours of the Net Result a few doors down. “I should know, but I don’t,” Ms. Mirko responded, picking up the phone to find out. “We order from there, like, three times a week,” she confessed later.
For the average Islander, clothing sold in Vineyard boutiques are out of reach, as are frequent shopping trips off-Island, she said. So many Islanders turn to her for affordable clothing.
“We outfit a whole year-round population of people,” she said. Currently, her database lists 2,220 consigners, many of whom use their credit to purchase clothes at the Closet.
“I think it’s hard because we live on an Island and it’s hard to get stuff,” she said. “I don’t know if I would be doing as well if I was on the mainland, maybe I wouldn’t have so many people come through my door.”
Some clients, whom she calls her regulars, shop at the Closet every day or nearly so. “That’s how you score something that is really going to work for you,” she said.
When something works for someone, really fits and makes them feel good, it’s a magical moment, Ms. Mirko said. “When the right person finds the right outfit, it’s just beautiful,” she said.
Over the years, she’s outfitted brides and bridal parties on the fly, she said, as well as those headed to Island events from the holiday party at the Edgartown Yacht Club to the homecoming dance.
“It’s kind of a community service,” said Theresa Berryman, who has worked there for six years. “We provide people good stuff at a good price.”
There is shop banter. “They chitchat and have a good time,” Ms. Mirko said. “Sometimes we watch Youtube videos just to keep happy.”
Growing up, her mother brought her shopping at the Salvation Army and at various rummage sales around New York. But she was also exposed to high-end clothing on Fifth avenue. “She showed us beautiful things,” she said. “I think that’s what makes me good at my job.”
The fragile state of the economy has also contributed to her success, she said. “When I opened and then the economy tanked, people who didn’t normally shop consignment started looking at it as an option,” she said.
In the back of the store, a door leads to a room full of products. Shopping bags, boxes and garbage bags are stuffed into shelves, their contents waiting to be sorted and priced. After years of working with pen and paper, Ms. Mirko now manages her inventory — clothing, accessories, shoes and jewelry — using Liberty4 Consignment, software that enables her to track scheduled price decreases and reimburse consigners for their merchandise. Every two weeks, the price of each item decreases by 25 per cent.
She said there will always be people who don’t feel comfortable buying other people’s clothes. But others relish the hunt — and celebrate with her when they pay $50 for a designer blouse worth $300. She regularly stocks high-end clothing, accessible to her because of her resort location. “It’s Martha’s Vineyard and people have beautiful clothes,” she said.
Ms. Mirko has good taste, she said, but she isn’t a clothes snob. “We sell everything from Forever 21 to Bergdorf here,” she said. “If it’s cute or good looking I will put it out. I don’t care what brand it is.”
When the piece of clothing finds a good home, she feels gratified, she said.
“It’s a beautiful experience . . . you’re not solving world peace, but you make somebody happy,” she said.