My coming to Atlanta is a long story. In the late '80s, I was living in New York and wanted to have my own store, but I wasn't able to afford to do that in New York. I was born and raised in Charleston, S.C., and my father — who passed away three years ago — had a shoe store there. It's actually still in existence, and it had already been in business for 40 years at that point. There were women I knew who drove all the way from Atlanta to Charleston just to buy their shoes there, so I realized there must've been a void in the Atlanta market.
When I discussed moving from New York to start my own business, my father said he wanted me to do it in Charlotte. I flew down there and decided I absolutely did not want to do it in Charlotte. I knew I wanted to do it in Atlanta. There was a point when I thought about Florida, but I didn't want to operate in a resort climate. That's how I decided on Atlanta — a huge city with fantastic clients and an opening in the market.
We started with a shoe store. I opened with Prada — at the time, nobody here carried Prada; shoes or bags — and Manolo Blahnik, which no one carried in Atlanta, and Stephane Kelian, who had very important lines at the time, and Robert Clergerie. But I also carried your day-in, day-out great shoe lines like Ferragamo, Stuart Weitzman, and Bob Ellis. Neiman Marcus had glitzy evening shoes, but no really great everyday shoes to speak of.
When I opened Jeffrey four years later, business was amazing from the day we opened the doors. By that time, I had an intimate knowledge of my clientele, and their wants and needs and likes. I didn't feel like those needs were being addressed in the Atlanta market. So I opened with the sort of clothing that I thought my clients wanted and that I knew they couldn't get locally.
Even then, downtown wasn't where people were going shopping. Everything was at Lenox and Phipps and had been forever. Lenox was definitely the mall with more traffic — and Phipps was definitely the quiet mall. I've always liked that about Phipps. I'm not much for crowds or hassle. I want to find a parking space and I want to run in and run out.
In this business, everyone is a competitor. There were and still are great specialty clothing stores in Atlanta, but now especially there's competition everywhere. When we opened Jeffrey, we opened with three lines that were not being sold anywhere in the Atlanta market, so there wasn't as much competition. And, really, I wasn't sure anyone was sitting around waiting for those items — they were just the items I wanted my clients to have. My father always taught me you have to sell people what you want them to have.
It's difficult to be a retailer, whether you're the big guy, the small guy, or the medium guy. Thank God we've been open for 22 years. But whether you're open 60 years or one year, every day is the first day. Every day you have to wake up and start over again. This is the new world we live in — you never know what tomorrow is going to bring. Personally, I'm not a big online shopper. The kinds of things I buy online are socks and underwear. Otherwise, I want to try things on, I want to get them altered right away, and I want to be done.
I've been in New York for more than a decade now, but I come to Atlanta regularly. I loved my life in Atlanta; loved my friends, loved the lifestyle, loved the proximity. I can't really say how much the shopping landscape has changed as a whole over the years, but Midtown has certainly developed and there are a lot of specialty boutiques that didn't exist just a few years ago, boutiques that do well and have good reputations. When I shop in Atlanta I particularly love Beverly Bremer Silver Shop. I can always find the perfect gift for someone I care about.
I'm very proud that my charity, Jeffrey Fashion Cares, is in its 20th year in Atlanta. Ninety cents on every dollar we raise goes directly to charity, which is amazing in the world of fundraising. We raise more than $600,000 a year, so over 20 years we've raised close to $10 million. We do it to try to do a good thing. I'm very proud that my heart — and the hearts of everyone involved — is in the right place.
Jeffrey Kalinsky has owned and operated the upscale women's boutique Jeffrey, located in Phipps Plaza in Buckhead, since 1994. His annual fashion show and auction Jeffrey Fashion Cares has raised approximately $10 million for AIDS and breast cancer research and celebrates its 20th year in 2012. Kalinsky currently resides in New York and serves as an executive vice president at Nordstrom.