2 longtime Sundance Square boutiques ride off into the sunset
See full CultureMap article by Stephanie Allmon Merry here.
Two Sundance Square shops known for Fort Worth-themed swag and one-of-a-kind gifts are closing, and their owner is hanging up his hat after decades in the retail business.
Retro Cowboy, at 406 Houston St., has closed its doors permanently; and Earth Bones Boutique, at 308 Main St., is turning out the lights August 30, says Chris Gensheimer, who owns and operates both.
The shutters are due in part to lost revenue during the coronavirus pandemic — but not entirely.
“It is because sales are slow, of course, but after 30 years, I need to find something else to do,” Gensheimer says. “I love Fort Worth, and being a retailer in Fort Worth, but it’s time to do something else.”
Earth Bones' evolution
Earth Bones, especially, has been a labor of love for his family for more than three decades. Gensheimer's wife, Martha, and her sister, Stacey Crum, launched a handmade jewelry line called Earth Bones in 1988. The first Earth Bones boutique opened in a small, gray duplex near Arlington Heights High School.
By the mid '90s, they’d expanded their unique merchandise and opened several stores throughout Dallas-Fort Worth, including locations on Camp Bowie Boulevard and in Dallas' Deep Ellum and Snider Plaza near SMU. But through the years, the retail landscape changed, and they consolidated their efforts into one store downtown, eventually landing in the historic Morris Building in Sundance Square.
Earth Bones evolved from a boutique that sold mostly jewelry to a destination for women’s apparel, greeting cards, Tyler Candles, and playful gifts featuring famous personalities like Bob Ross and Donald Trump. It became a fun place for downtown workers to browse on their lunch breaks and evening diners to hit between a parking garage and a restaurant. The majority of customers were convention visitors and out-of-towners stopping through on layovers from the train, the owner says.
But along came the rise of Amazon and the struggle of independent, brick-and-mortar retailers to survive. "The demise is real. It is happening. We all know that," Gensheimer says.
Then, when COVID-19 halted conventions, shut down restaurants, and moved downtown workers home this spring, sales slowed and he decided officially to bow out.
Retro Cowboy — the 18-year-old souvenir boutique packed with Cowboy-themed cookbooks, T-shirts, boots, Fort Worth trinkets, and Texas memorabilia — was hit especially hard by the disappearance of tourists downtown, he says. Liquidating the store this summer, without visitors from planes and trains into Fort Worth, even became a challenge.
Gensheimer is also giving up his third gig, operating the Sid Richardson Museum gift shop in Sundance Square. The museum remains closed amid the pandemic but is expected to reopen. "It was a good retail experience," he says. "That museum is a gem. It's so unique to our downtown."
Thanks for the memories
The longtime entrepreneur is not ready to reveal what's next, but "my wife and I have two small ideas we're working on," he teases. They're grateful for the thousands of customers and employees who've walked through the doors over the years, he says.
And given the response to a July 28 Facebook post announcing Earth Bones' closure, the feeling is mutual.
Dozens of commenters immediately began reminiscing and sending well wishes. Several shared memories of shopping at the store decades ago; one commenter recalled, as a child, playing with the shop cat while her mother shopped. Another posted her wedding picture in front of the store. Others mentioned jewelry pieces they have kept for years.
One tiny solace to heartbroken customers is a going-out-of-business sale, which is happening now. Currently, everything is 40 percent off. Follow Earth Bones' Facebook page for updates before they close the doors for good.