Although Tricia Caminos has just opened the doors on her North Avenue boutique, you'd be hard-pressed to look around it and find anything new.
The clothes, shoes, bags and jewelry are secondhand (from Old Navy and Target to BCBG and Armani), the space is a former garage that was a former gas station, the walls are original or reused materials from the renovation, a big old armoire she found on the curb serves as shelving, and even the doors and windows are Craiglist finds.
"It's this whole annoyance of waste," says Caminos. "I'd look at something and think, why would you throw that away?"
Caminos, 47, from Cranford, has always loved the adrenaline rush of finding a great deal. After spending Sundays at hip secondhand stores in Soho and the Village and realizing there was nothing equivalent around here, she decided to make her move.
"I want customers to walk in here and feel like this is an upscale boutique and then go, 'Oh my god, this is secondhand?'" she says. "When I started going to thrift stores around here, I noticed either their prices were very high or it was just sort of a yucky thrift store and I wanted to wash my hands after. I wanted to create a middle ground."
In February, Caminos started filling her garage with her finds from garage sales.
"I would talk to the girls who had nice clothes at their sales and give them my number," says Caminos. "So now they call me and their friends call me."
Prices at Progress range from $5 to $150 at the highest, clothes are washed or steamed before they hit the racks, and the shop offers women's, teen's and men's clothing. Customers can bring in unwanted, new or gently used clothes and receive a percentage of what Caminos will sell them for – either 40 percent of her prices in store credit or 20 percent cash on the spot.
"The only requirement we have is that it's hip and trendy and now," says Caminos. "We also look for true vintage. And I'll only take what I know I can sell. I almost hope to do this as a group effort. You’re going to start bringing me your stuff and telling your friends because you want to have more options of things when you shop here. We can do this together – if you let me buy it low, I can sell it low and we keep going like that."
Finding the right space was Caminos's greatest challenge, but in many ways, it seems this spot, which has been vacant for almost two decades, found her.
"I looked in Westfield and Cranford, and I didn’t really consider Garwood at first, but then I just started seeing Garwood picking up and I liked the vibe of it," says Caminos. "I had been looking for two years before this space caught my eye. This was a neglected garage and it's been vacant for 18 years."
Caminos says the garage's owners, an elderly couple who live in Boca Raton, had had plenty of offers from chains like Taco Bell and Wendy's, but refused to sell to a big corporation. When they heard Caminos's idea, however, they were on board.
"We talked for 10 minutes and 30 minutes later she called me back and said yes," says Caminos. "There have been thousands of people who wanted to rent this. They've had some serious offers. I don’t know why she rented it to me, but I think she liked the idea of what I was doing."
Caminos says friends of hers who saw the space before it was renovated thought she was crazy. For sure, she could've found a clean, new, retail-friendly space somewhere nearby.
"I liked it because it was such a raw space, and I like showing the raw and the old and showing its beauty," says Caminos. "My builder was a New Jersey company, Two Brothers-in-Law. The renovation took four months and we reused everything we could. We never had a dumpster. There's hardly any waste."
Indeed, the store itself fits Caminos's philosophy. Without a caring hand to bring out its charm, the dilapidated building would likely have been a teardown for any other renter.
One of the highlights of the space is three huge, loft-type windows that flood it with sun. "A guy spent 16 hours cleaning those," says Caminos.
Before taking the plunge and opening Progress, Caminos owned an internet-based Hawaii-specific travel agency and worked from home while caring for her three children with her husband, a director of sales for a hotel.
"I’ve been home for 13 years and it was just time to move on to the next chapter of my life," says Caminos.
She says she couldn't be happier with the finished product and its Garwood location.
"The neighborhood is great," she says. "Classic Antiques next door lent me the chandelier. The town has been really supportive. I feel like everybody around here has been dying for this place to be something."
But Caminos's biggest bit of encouragement for her project came from a source even closer to home.
"I really wanted to be sure not to embarrass my teenage daughter," she laughs. "Once her friends approved, that was it. I knew it was cool."
Progress, 200 North Avenue in Garwood, 973-356-1407, progressresale.com, email@example.com. Hours: 10 a.m. - 7 p.m. Mon-Thurs; noon - 6 p.m. Sunday; open till 8 p.m. Fri & Sat. Facebook: facebook.com/progressresale;
Read our stories on other Garwood business openings: