About the Shop

Sam’s Shop: 35 years of fabulous fashions

By Susan Carpenter Sims, The Taos News
Published February 22, 2011

Kathleen Fowler got to Taos serendipitously. In 1981, while driving from Albuquerque, where she was living, to Colorado for a job interview, she made a stop in Taos and happened to see a great condo with a “for sale” sign.

“And that was it,” says Fowler. “I stayed, and I’ve been in the same place ever since.”

Sam’s Shop on Bent Street

Kathleen Fowler stands at the entrance of Sam’s Shop on Bent Street, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary. Photo by Susan Carpenter Sims.

At first, Fowler did odd jobs to support herself, and one of those was working at a clothing boutique on Bent Street called Sam’s Shop, then owned by Samantha Parks. But it wasn’t long before she found herself buying the business.

Fowler had always loved fashion and majored in fashion design in college. She even had her own clothing design after she graduated. So taking over Sam’s Shop was a natural fit. Sam’s Shop is now celebrating its 35th anniversary, and it’s been 26 years since Fowler took the reins.

“When I bought the business that was a great high, and to see it work was lots of fun,” remembers Fowler. “It was a good business from the get go.”

Fowler says she’s awed at the store’s longevity and says not a lot has changed since Parks owned it.

“The layout and a lot of the inner workings of the store are exactly the same,” says Fowler. “What she set up worked.”

Fowler has even had the same bookkeeper for 26 years and two of the same employees for 15.

“I’ve always had a great team,” she says. What has changed, though, is that Fowler bought the building four years ago. “That was extremely exciting,” she says. “It gave me a focus and a huge sense of security.”

Fowler says that while she has certain suppliers she’s worked with for years, she likes trying out new lines of clothing. Fowler also works with several designers on commission, one of whom is Taos’ own Missy Rhysing, co-owner of Talisman Tattoo.

Another is an Australian designer whose signature piece is a kimonosleeve t-shirt.

“It’s a true boutique in the sense that there’s a lot of different looks going on,” says Fowler. “My niche is very unique things as well as great basics.”

Fowler admits that knowing what will sell is not always predictable.

“Your brilliant decisions leave the store,” she laughs, “and the ones that don’t work stay around and keep you company.”

She tells of some pieces a friend sent that she initially didn’t like, but they sold like wildfire.

“I reordered four times,” she says. “In a million years I would have never picked them.”

After so long in the same business, you might wonder if Fowler gets bored, but when she needs a change of pace, and she goes to fashion markets in places like Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

“Going to market is always a fun way to get out of town,” says Fowler, adding, “You build up relationships with people at that end of the business. There are friendships there.”

Fowler regards her location as her best advertising, and says, “I think so much of this Bent Street, John Dunn corridor here. I’ve got location location location, and to me that’s the most enjoyable.” Sam’s Shop gets visitors from places like Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Colorado Springs, and Fowler feels strongly that the experience visitors have both in her shop and in Taos in general are very important for getting repeat business.

“The customer experience in your store is probably the most important thing: enjoying the ambiance, having fun,” she says. “It’s been my repeat customers that have been so important to me.”

Fowler says she’s happy, and that’s a big part of why her business is successful.

“I think being personally happy is extremely important for everything in life. It’s the energy you bring into the business,” she says. “It’s not that I haven’t had worries and stress, but still, there’s always something to be thankful for.”

Susan Carpenter Sims writes exclusively to create awareness of the critical role entrepreneurship plays in our community. To learn about the many services available for businesses or to make suggestions, call the Taos Chamber at (575) 751-8800.