By Elizabeth Riggs
For Gado-Gado Owner Susan Roberts, her 20-year- old Ellicottville boutique all stemmed from a love of traveling to Indonesia.
“I had been traveling quite a bit for several years and had found myself in Indonesia and really fell in love with the people and the country. I was not at all looking to get into the retail business by any stretch,” Roberts said. “I started talking to a friend of mine and she kind of nudged me in the direction of opening a store and bringing goods back from Indonesia.”
Roberts, who has a background in jewelry design, first opened the store in 1997. In its early days, she traveled back and forth to Indonesia frequently to find great pieces and products to bring back to the United States.
“We started selling literally everything—jewelry, wood carvings, pottery, clothing, incense, crafts. There was always something different,” she said. “One shipment, we would have beautiful woven placemats, and the next shipment would be beautiful lamps or carvings. There were always really unique pieces.”
Having grown up in Ellicottville, Roberts says her main goal was to open a store that would have something to offer everyone.
“When I decided to start my business, it was really important to me that it was somewhere that would be really accessible to a lot of people. Anyone would be able to come in and take away something that was unique, that they really loved, and that they didn’t see everywhere,” Roberts said. “As a local growing up in Ellicottville, I wanted it to be accessible to locals.”
According to Roberts, the traveling back and forth to Indonesia eventually became too much for her family.
“My last trip to do business there was in the fall of 2004. I decided I was going to take my business in another direction. As much as I loved being able to go back and forth, I needed to start on another path because it wasn’t necessarily the best decision for everybody involved,” Roberts said.
It was then that Roberts reevaluated her inventory and started going to shows in the United States to look for other products. Gado-Gado’s current product line is more focused on women’s clothing and accessories, in addition to fair trade essential oils, perfumes, incense, candles, and other gift items.
“Those are our staples. It’s not as big of a gamut anymore. We really try to keep a little bit more of a focus now but still keep it as affordable and accessible and unique as possible. I really, really strive for that,” Roberts said.
In fact, the Gado-Gado inventory is so unique, that she encourages customers to purchase items they fall in love with before they sell out.
“We don’t buy anything in big quantities — sometimes maybe only one piece per size,” Roberts said.
“Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Our merchandise turns over really quickly. We try to let people know.”
For Roberts, another priority is offering pieces that embody her own personal values.
“I really work hard to pull in as many fair trade and environmentally-conscious pieces as I can,” she said.
“I prefer to work with craftsmen and individuals if I can. I feel really strongly about that.”
Roberts also feels strongly about offering something for everyone, which is no small task considering the large range in her client base.
“We have a really wide customer base. We have girls in high school coming in looking for dresses for dances, and then we have women in their 70s and 80s coming in,” Roberts said. “We try and offer something for everybody, in all shapes and sizes and demographics. It’s really important to me.”
For Roberts, who has lived in Chicago for the last 12 years, running a business in a different city and state has been a long shot, but a successful one that she credits to her superior staff. When she made the decision to move to Illinois, Roberts says she just wasn’t ready to see Gado-Gado close its doors.
“I love the community and I love the people and when you own your own business, it becomes like another child really. I had people that were reliant on working there, and I really wasn’t ready (to close the doors when I moved),” she said. “I have an amazing staff. They are great with customers, trustworthy, really creative, strong women. They all work phenomenally together.”
Roberts added that, “It’s sort of an unlikely arrangement, and it sometimes has its challenges for sure, but we’ve been able to make it work. I guess you don’t know how something is going to work until you try it out.”
And according to Roberts, it’s not just her staff that makes the store so successful. She also credits her customers that keep her store so busy.
“I feel really fortunate that we are in the community that we are and that I’ve been able to have such wonderful people come through the door. The women that I work with make it happen. We just want to be able to offer that shopping experience to everyone—that they come in and they have a good time, find something unique and walk out feeling that little shopping high.”
Gado-Gado is located at 26 Monroe Street in Ellicottville. For more information visit their website: www.gadogadoellicottville.com/.