Smile Politely

A new era for Dandelion

Dandelion is a bit of an institution here in C-U. It has changed locations a few times, having settled in the past five years or so in the old train station in a shared space with Exile on Main, but the ownership has remained consistent for its entire run. Until now. Sara Hudson opened Dandelion in 1993 after a stint in advertising in San Francisco, and it’s been a community treasure since. But after 26 years at the helm, she’s stepping away and passing the torch to her employee, Charlotte Wescott. In fact, she did so as of January 1st. I sat down with them both to talk about what’s in store as they embark on new adventures, and it became clear that Hudson has found someone who is equally passionate about Dandelion’s place in the community, and who is ready to move it forward into the next phase.

Smile Politely: C-U is such a transient community. As a small business and in a community such as ours, what’s given Dandelion such staying power over the years?

Sara Hudson: I’ve always believed that you have to listen to your customers about what they want, and you have to pay attention to trends and larger community issues. Recycling was my passion, and so was vintage. But, certain things happen over the years…you have to pay attention to “oh, people want locally made items,” so we added t-shirts and earrings and Wild Botanicals handmade lotions and soaps and oils. You have to keep your finger on the pulse of what the community wants. In the beginning I made a lot of mistakes, and that’s very common. I started out only selling clothes that I liked, and I found that my taste is a bit eclectic so I had to transform the store into what other people wanted and liked.

SP: How do you feel that you evolved as a business owner?

Hudson: I was so naive when I started. I was younger, and I had grandiose expectations and plans…My sensitivity had to get a little hardened…I had to become a little less sensitive to all of the outside pressures of being a business owner. I had to put aside my notions that I’m going to change the world, so maybe I can change some people in some part of my community to recycle more, to love vintage clothing a little more, to think outside the box in their everyday outfits. I’m not going to change the world, magically.

SP: So here’s the obvious question. Why now?

Hudson: I woke up one day and realized that my son is 11, and I’m missing it. So 90 percent of the reason is I love my family and I’m gone too much. I’ve tried having employees be there more than me, I’ve tried having a manager, but then it’s not the Dandelion I want it to be. It was either have a watered down Dandelion that I’m not 100 percent proud of, and what I want to bring to the community, or miss my son growing up. I was never home when I was the owner full time. I also just realized half of my life has been at Dandelion. I just thought, it’s time to do something else. In the same way that an artist knows when their painting is finished, and they step away, I think I knew that Dandelion, under my guardianship has been the biggest blessing in my life, and it’s time to pass the torch.

SP: Tell me about that transition? How did Charlotte become the one to carry the torch?

Charlotte Wescott: I think I started working at Dandelion around this time last year, but I’ve been coming in for years with my mom, with my family, with my friends. I think I might have been 9 or 10 (the first time). It was one of the first places of its kind that I saw…It’s the first time I started thinking about my personal style, and it was a place where I could explore that. It was more than just coming in and buying clothes. We had this familiarity, and I could see that with other people coming in as well. I understood that businesses can be a community gathering place and I was really happy that we had that type of thing here. Even after living in another state, another town…I would find places that were similar to Dandelion, but it made me realize how special it was to have a business that had larger issues in mind. I’ve see you (Hudson) and Jeff (Brandt, from Exile) host artists and benefit shows…you’re just connected to the whole city. It’s not just an isolated store.

SP: So Sara did you have Charlotte in mind for this then?

Hudson: Our lease with was up April 30th, and Jeff and I were trying to decide do we want to go to a bigger space, do we want to ask for more space, do we want to condense, do we want to ask another store to join us…and my husband was the one who said “or, you could take a break.” I didn’t even think that was an option. And in reality, I didn’t think anybody would ever want to take over. I just didn’t think that was a dream that anyone else had but me. I didn’t ever think it would be interesting to anyone else. I decided I was going to just close and just have a big sale and maybe go on a big vacation or something. I told Jeff, then the responsible thing to do would be to tell my employee Char, so she could line up another job and I could help her and write a letter of reference. So I told Char and her immediate reaction was “Oh no, you can’t close Dandelion. Maybe I could do it!”

I kept giving her a way out…but she was insistent. She said “No, this could really work.”

SP: Do you have any sort of background for this? What did you go to school for?

Wescott: Well in school I studied visual art and environmental studies, so…

Hudson: And she’s a musician.

Wescott: I’ve worked in a lot of small businesses, and I’ve seen a lot of different types of operations, and felt like I have these interests, and I have seen how (Hudson) functions, and I just felt comfortable. Observing her was pretty inspirational. I just kind of jumped into it and learned. I do want to continue the community mind of it. I want to support artists, and have it be a safe space.

SP: Coming into something like this, do you maintain or are the wheels turning thinking about what it could be?

Wescott: It’s a bit of both. I’m getting my feet wet and sort of maintaining for now, but I’ve already started trying to develop a social media presence, maybe connect with students more…an online store is something I’ve thought about. I do want to continue (things that have been going on already). The Boneyard Art Festival is coming up and I really want to participate in that and other things that have been done in the past.

SP: How has life without Dandelion been for you Sara? Has it been odd? Has it been exciting?

Hudson: It’s been wonderful. I’ve been cleaning house, I’ve been on a boy scout ski trip already, I’m going to my son’s archery tournaments…I’m becoming wonder mom. I’m volunteering for all this kid stuff that I’ve never been able to do before. I have weekends off now, we can go on trips…it’s wonderful.

I’m so happy that Charlotte is taking over. It just touches my heart so deeply. She’s going to be so amazing, and I can’t wait to see what she’s going to do.

Photo by Julie McClure

Managing Editor

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