A Novato group fighting to reduce youth access to alcohol is reacting with mixed feelings to the closure of an apparel store that was picketed by the group because of window displays that seemed to promote underage partying.
The Tilly's store at Vintage Oaks Shopping Center closed at the end of September, according to Kathy DeOchoa of Crosspoint Realty, which manages the center. The 7,100-square-foot store is available for lease, she said.
Tilly's corporate office in Irvine and DeOchoa did not offer information about why the store closed. Speculation could include the general state of the economy or sagging demands for the apparel sold at the store, but it could also include a choice by Novato youth and parents not to shop there anymore.
In April, the Novato Blue Ribbon Coalition for Youth called local media about a press conference to be staged in front of the store. Several teens with the group were upset by window displays that included mannequins at a beach party scene placed around red plastic cups and tipped-over coolers. The signs behind the display said, “Now is the time to get tanked,” and “Now is the time to par-tee.”
Tilly's took down the display before the press conference, so what was meant to be a peaceful protest turned into a thank-you to Tilly's for understanding that it might be seen as inappropriate, especially in a town that has had well-documented issues with teen binge drinking.
"We commend Tilly's for taking that action and we're sorry they closed," said Teri Rockas, co-chair of the coalition. "Hopefully nobody lost their jobs."
Tilly's corporate office would not release any information about the closure, but a woman who answered the phone at the Tilly's store in San Rafael said Novato employees were offered jobs at other Tilly's locations.
Rockas said it's hard to know whether negative media publicity led to a drop in sales at the Novato store and led to the closure or whether that had nothing to do with the decision to shut down.
"They stepped into something with that campaign, but they took immediate steps to correct it," Rockas said. "That's a model that should be followed by other retailers who are so blatantly ignoring health issues that concern our families and our youth."
Nikki Buckstead, a project coordinator with the coalition, said the idea behind such a protest is to help protect children from negative influences in the community.
"It's one of those things where we don't want to hurt any businesses," she said. "In fact the coalition is really big about supporting local merchants and retailers. We are always cognizant of using Novato-specific companies.
Asked of Tilly's learned a lesson from the ordeal, Buckstead said, "I think it was a community lesson."