Near and Dear

Dear Society is Broadway's newest shopping destination.



Maria Casteel and chanel Jezek in their shop, dear society

 

   Chanel Jezek and Maria Casteel met by chance last summer, when they each had booths at Bella Patina in the West Bottoms during a chaotic First Friday. After a day of eying each other’s wares, the two sellers struck up a conversation.

   “We got to talking about if we would ever want to open a physical space, not just pop-up shops, which is what we had both been doing,” Casteel says. “Our visions aligned really well — our taste is very similar — and things just progressed really naturally and easily.”

   The vision Casteel speaks of is manifested now in a vintage clothing and home goods retail shop called Dear Society, located at 3566 Broadway, below the Ambassador Apartments.

   “The vision we had was just to create a store for women, men and children that allowed them to feel comfortable and welcome,” Jezek says. “When Maria and I got together and were talking about opening a shop, we talked about shops that we liked, and a common theme was how welcoming we thought our favorite shops seemed. So right away, there was this vision of just visually creating something that seemed welcoming. That was really important to us.”

   The boutique itself isn’t huge, but Casteel and Jezek have arranged their wares in a way that creates space. A tan-colored leather couch invites lounging; the cream-colored walls are decorated with intricate weavings from Whisker Row and surreal collage art from Kristen Elise, both Kansas City makers. Garments and shoes (with a selection for men and children as well as women), jewelry, leather goods, ceramic trays, and one-of-a-kind furniture pieces are artfully arranged throughout the shop — and, with the exception of the garments and shoes, most goods are sourced from makers around the Midwest if not from Kansas City.

   Despite the breadth of Dear Society’s selection, there’s not a lot of clutter. Everything seems to have its place, its own particular justification for the shelf space it occupies.

Dear Society Kansas City

   “We think that the shop is easy to flow through,” Jezek says. “We wanted to make sure you could walk through and browse and not worry about what your bag was hitting or who you were next to.”

   Casteel and Jezek thoroughly review every little detail — like the placement of an exceptional set of glittering geode bookends handmade by local artist Nicole Robertson (Jezek’s sister), sparkling from their nook on a bookshelf between clothing racks. Dear Society’s impeccable layout extends to the two dressing rooms, each a spacious 6-by-6 feet — accessible for wheelchairs or shoppers with children.

   “The lighting is bright and nice, too,” Jezek says. “We wanted to keep the dressing rooms comfortable, because that’s where you’re putting on your piece and transforming with your piece. That’s a crucial part of the experience.”

   Jezek refers to the goods in Dear Society as “pieces” throughout our conversation, and she has every right to: The selection at the shop is hand-chosen by her and Casteel through a combination of Craigslist, thrift stores, estate sales, garage sales and every other form of treasure hunt. The pieces tend to be finds from the 1960s and ’70s, with an emphasis on well-made American classics.

   “Vintage doesn’t have to mean outdated,” Casteel says. “We want things to be wearable. We’re not a costume shop. We don’t want any of our customers shopping here for Halloween. These are things that can translate into today.”

Dear Society Kansas City

   “We want to carry pieces that are long-lasting and not trendy,” Jezek adds. “We aren’t going for something kitschy. We want pieces that will last through the seasons — things that are classic and comfortable. We love cottons and linens and things that feel great on your skin and are easy to care for. What we’re doing is curating a selection that you feel beautiful in, regardless of your size and how you view your body. That was something we wanted to share with our customers.”

   While Dear Society has the look of an upscale shop, its pricing scale is refreshingly fair: Most garments start at $20 and go up to $100, with a few exceptions. The 1970s cream-colored evening gown from designer Luis Estévez is marked at $198 and is the most expensive piece of clothing on the racks — though, Casteel says, it would normally go for three times that price tag online. (The only reason it’s still for sale at Dear Society is due to the tiny size-24 waist.)

   “Pricing really depends piece by piece,” Jezek says. “We want to keep it accessible to everyone, and we’re not thinking what’s the most profit we can get from this piece. We don’t want people to feel like they can’t afford the things we carry.”

   It’s easy to find if you’re looking for it: the street-facing windows are bright and wide, showing off plenty of Casteel and Jezek’s finds. During operating hours, a sandwich board sits on the sidewalk, inviting passersby inside.

   But though it’s located on an increasingly busy strip of Broadway — next door to a hair salon, just across from Karma Tribe Yoga, Krokstrom Klubb & Market and Shio Ramen Shop — Dear Society is an anomaly. There are few other retail options in the neighborhood, and none like what Casteel and Jezek are doing, which means that Dear Society is largely a destination.

   Casteel and Jezek prefer to think of their location as an opportunity.

   “We looked at a couple spots in the Crossroads and near the Plaza, but it felt right for us to be in this spot on Broadway,” Jezek says. “There are a couple new developments in the area — new apartment buildings going up — and we already see a lot of people from the Ambassador, just because we’re right here. Plus, with everything else starting to go in along that street, we feel like a crowd will start coming to the area.”

   Jezek and Casteel theorize that once the streetcar continues its line down Main Street, traffic will naturally steer toward Broadway. But beyond strategy, the two women are proud to be a part of what they consider a revival along this storied throughway.

   “I used to live in midtown, and I love the midtown vibe,” Jezek says. “I think it’s a creative and fun but still very relaxed vibe, and we hope that our presence helps encourage other business around us, too.”

Dear Society Kansas City

   Dear Society is located at 3566 Broadway in Kansas City. Closed Monday – Wednesday. Open Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. – 8 p.m., Sunday from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. For more information, visit dearsocietyshop.com