Five days a week you can find Gloria Everhart taking stock of her inventory, adjusting clothing racks, chatting with customers — she knows all their names — and hanging out with her friend, Apollo the dog.
At 90 years old, she has been at it for almost 56 years.
She started by selling overstock designer clothes out of her own home and eventually brought her Act II upscale consignment business to 1507 W. 47th St., off the Country Club Plaza.
The woman who grew up in the Depression has come a long way from a shop girl who wore smocks made from flour sacks to her first job.
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But on Aug. 31 she’ll close Act II’s doors for the final time as its owner.
“I can’t stop the clock,” she said. “You have to quit sometimes. I wish you didn’t. I wish I could go on. … I have loved what I’ve done.”
It’s hard to leave. The store represents not only the challenges she has overcome in its half-century but also the deep relationships she has built with customers, some of whom are third-generation patrons.
“I’ve had one person — I just adore her — come in and say, ‘Gloria, I’ve had this blouse for 20 years; do you remember?’ I said, ‘I don’t think I can; I can hardly remember my name, much less your blouses,’ ” Everhart said with a laugh.
But for as much as she jokes about her age, Everhart is clearly sharp. She knows her regulars’ style preferences, and it’s not uncommon for her to call them up when pieces come into the store that she knows they’d love — maybe a lavender Oscar de la Renta skirt-and-jacket set, or a St John’s vintage long white gown, or a beige knit three-piece. For her, it’s all a part of the lost art of customer service.
It’s clearly working. As she spoke with this reporter last week in her store, sitting on her green polka-dot antique settee, almost every single customer interrupted to wish Everhart good luck with retirement and tell her how much they would miss her.
“I just wanted to say thank you for so many years,” longtime shopper Judith Epstein told her. “Have a wonderful rest of your life. Good luck with everything; just have fun. I really did stop in to just say hi.”
Everhart watched her walk out the door and smiled. “I really do adore them,” she said. “These are people who honestly don’t want me to leave, because I’m a part of their lives.”
From porch to 47th St.
Born in Kansas City, Everhart knew at age 8 that she wanted to run a business and have a family. She calls herself a maverick — and a good one, at that. Growing up in the Depression was “a delightful experience”; it gave her a strong work ethic and taught her the art of taking care of other people.
Her mother, who could copy any fashion design, created smocks out of flour sacks. Everhart wore those to one of her first jobs as a sales associate at the old Chasnoff’s, and customers would ask her where she bought them. Her boss had to tell her to stop saying her mother created them and sell the clothes she was supposed to instead.
It was there that she cut her teeth in the fashion industry and found a passion for business. But the college-educated Everhart had no desire to become a secretary, schoolteacher or stay-at-home mom.
The business of fashion was “there to be taken,” she said.
“I thought, ‘What my mother has taught me, I can bring to the women of Kansas City at an affordable price.’ I just had to figure out how.”
An answer came quickly: a consignment store, which combined the love for fashion inspired by her mother with the thriftiness she had developed growing up in the Depression. With no need for a large cash investment, she could sell only high-end pieces, at first bought solely from individuals in Kansas City. She quickly expanded to include sample lines and surplus from as many as 130 stores.
Everhart ran the business out of her own house to start, first off her front porch and then out of a carriage house when her family moved to accommodate a growing business and a growing family. As the business increased, so did the traffic, which prompted an anonymous call to the police. After that, she bought several houses around the business to rent so she could vet the people who lived around the store.
When law enforcement eventually told her she would have to shut down because of zoning restrictions, she had to find a new solution.
And she did, in the small shop on 47th Street. Except for a few years running Act II out of a four-story building, which didn’t prove practical for her customers, Act II has made its home at 1507 ever since.
The shop is the last in a row of dainty boutiques. A simple placard reads “Act II: A Consignment Shoppe,” and a banner nearby announces: “Gloria is retiring.”
Walk in, and you’re immediately greeted with a “Hey, lady!” from Everhart or a nudge from resident dog Apollo as he searches for a head scratch. Men’s designer suits, belts and shoes line the right side, where a small wall bears newspaper clippings from over the years, including a photo of Everhart in the late ’70s answering the phone at a tiny desk surrounded by clothing racks.
The crown jewel of the store is the women’s merchandise, with rows of blouses, skirts, pants and dresses from all decades and designers — Chanel, St. John’s and Calvin Klein, to name a few. Jimmy Choo pumps peek out from the dress shoes lining the side wall, with jewelry sets and accessories — fedoras and wide-brimmed sunhats — sitting by the mirror to add that outfit-finishing touch.
When she’s not happily shaking hands with and giving hugs to customers, Everhart reorganizes racks with a small frown. When she’s finished, the frown disappears into a satisfied smile.
She also fits right in with the clothes she sells. Everhart’s trademark is her style; she’s always impeccable dressed in the finest high-end fashion (St. John’s is her absolute favorite), her warm eyes rimmed with bright makeup and a brighter color upon her smiling lips.
It’s no wonder clients trust her judgment; she exudes refinement from every inch of her 4-foot-11 frame. But don’t confuse her expensive taste for snobbery; she’s soft-spoken, but her full-throated laugh can be heard from across the room — and often.
Winding down and looking back
If there’s one thing Everhart is proud of, it’s being unconventional. She speaks often of cracking the glass ceiling; when she started her business, it was unheard of for a mother of five to work. She lost a lot of friends.
“I found I had to make all new friends; they just wouldn’t accept me because I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing,” she said. “It was against what life they had chosen.”
Thankfully, her late husband of 59 years, George, was supportive in a time where many of her female friends were not. When she became exhausted from juggling her job and kids, he suggested they share the duties of cooking during the week. They also shared responsibility for raising their children, who have never told their mother they’ve ever resented her decision.
She says she has two secrets for keeping up her energy and living a long life: She exercises five days a week and is particular about what she eats. As a self-described “right-brain person,” she also enjoys cooking and interior design. Now she lives in a townhouse opposite the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. She recently fell and hit her head (a debilitating injury for a typical woman 20 years her junior), but after a quick surgery to close the wound, she bounced right back with not even a concussion.
She has embraced the internet, admitting that she has to have “a brick and a flick” (a physical store and an online one) to succeed in business today. Act II has both a website and a Facebook page, where Everhart posts sales events and photos of clothes. For the past 12 years she has run the store with the assistance of Kathy Montanari, a former jeweler.
Montanari has left her own mark on the store; she’s brought her dog and customer-favorite Apollo into the shop for the last three years. She jokes he’s the president of the store’s PR club.
Montanari said she loves Everhart’s sense of humor and irony and the lessons she’s taught about working with people, especially her way of letting troubles go.
“She’s just as nice as she seems,” Montanari said. “It’s been a fun experience. … I think my favorite part is just helping the nice people and having people that come back in all the time.”
Virginia Rawlings is one of those customers. After shopping there for more than 30 years, she says Act II has cemented itself in Kansas City culture.
“Her personality comes through for everybody that walks in the door,” Rawlings said. “She just makes them feel like they are in an upscale environment, and she truly wants to help them with fashion. She gives advice if you want it, and if you put something on that she likes, she tells you.”
And if it doesn’t look so good, “She’ll say, ‘Oh, I think we can find something better,’ ” Rawlings said.
If there’s anything Everhart hopes her customers learn, it’s the difference between high-end and trends and, even broader, fashion and style.
“Fashion is what you put on, but style is what you make your own,” Everhart said.
When Everhart retires, she wants to sell the store, not shutter it forever. Some customers want Montanari to take over the business, but she’ll be retiring as well. While the store hasn’t found a buyer, Everhart held out hope that someone would come along to keep Act II providing high-end clothing to her customers.
That’s not to say she wouldn’t come back. She’s open to helping the new owner, teaching the skills shehas learned over the 56 years she has run the place.
As she retires, though, she looks forward to days of doing nothing. But don’t expect retirement to hold her down for long — she said she’s always going to find something to keep her busy, even though she’ll sorely miss running Act II.
But, “I would do it all over again,” she said. “I wouldn’t change anything.”
Kate Miller: 816-234-4077, @_kate_miller_
The final days
Act II Inc. consignment store, at 1507 W. 47th St., is open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. The store will close on Aug. 31.