Sabrina Garcia-Rubio stopped in Columbia to meet a friend in the late 1990s when — for nearly the first time in her life — she had no plan.
Now, she’s about to usher her business into its twenty-first year and a new space.
Maude Vintage will open April 1 in its third home in Columbia since opening in 2000. The move is a downsize. Garcia-Rubio in October sold her extensive costume rental inventory that took up the entire basement of the Broadway location.
Garcia-Rubio described the new space at 9 N. Tenth St. — where Consign & Design closed its doors in late February — as “cuter, smaller, cheaper,” but she hadn’t found it when she informed her landlord at 818 Broadway that she would not be renewing her lease.
A rent hike was announced for the space, even after the COVID-19 pandemic caused Maude to close for four months and otherwise slowed business.
Garcia-Rubio said she had the opportunity to negotiate it down, but she decided to walk away instead.
“I felt like I’d always be negotiating with him as long as I’m here and as long as he’s the building owner,” Garcia-Rubio said. “I’d always be looking over my shoulder, like, ‘Is he going to raise the rent? Is he going to take over the basement?’”
Her decisions to move and to part with her 28-year-old costume collection are characteristic of a sort of pragmatic flexibility and intuition that she’s developed as a small business owner.
“It’s something I’ve recognized to trust,” Garcia-Rubio said.
Finding a new path
In school, Garcia-Rubio had “always had a path toward something.” She played basketball and volleyball and attended Missouri Valley College on scholarship. After her first semester, though, Garcia-Rubio decided to leave and step in as a caretaker for her mother who had experienced a series of traumatizing events.
“That’s when everything started changing for me,” she said. “And I think that’s part of what helps to kind of wipe that slate clean.”
Eventually, Garcia-Rubio realized things at home weren’t working, and she was going through a “dark time.”
She had “no goals, no motivation.” She decided to travel and visit some friends. She came to Columbia on what she thought was “a pit-stop on [the] way to somewhere else.”
She was 19 and fit her cat, her TV and her clothes in her $200 Chevy Corsica.
“When I realized ‘Hey, I could choose to lay some roots and stay in one place,’ then that just felt great to have made that decision,” Garcia-Rubio said.
Garcia-Rubio met Ilene Vanabbema, owner of Crazy I’s. Garcia-Rubio asked Vanabbema to let her experiment with buying clothes from people in-store at higher prices to set them apart from other clothing resale shops in Columbia at the time.
She would offer people more money and sell for more. She bought a leather coat to sell for $50, and Vanabbema thought it wouldn’t sell.
“I was like, ‘Can I just try it and if it doesn’t sell, you could take it out of my paycheck,’” Garcia-Rubio said. “And it sold. It was either that day or the next morning.”
Six months later, Garcia-Rubio bought Vanabbema’s entire inventory. Garcia-Rubio used that inventory to open Maude Vintage at age 23.
La-Toya Jackson began working at Maude Vintage in 2004, in high school as an intern through Columbia’s Career Awareness Related Experience program. Garcia-Rubio hired Jackson that summer. Jackson, now 33 and also working as an assistant preschool teacher, has stayed for the positive work environment.
Jackson said that Garcia-Rubio helped her come out of her shell and encouraged her to view every customer interaction as a chance to build confidence talking to new people.
“Before I worked here I feel like I was the shiest, quietest person in school,” Jackson said. “I feel like working here really helped with me being more vocal and outspoken.”
Pandemic challenges and opportunities
When the pandemic shut down everything in March 2020, Jackson came into work at Maude the day that her preschool closed.
“At the time we felt, you know, we would be fine,” Jackson said. “But then … as the night progressed, that very next day we decided to shut down as well.”
Garcia-Rubio didn’t really get to slow down during the shutdown. She used her days to set up the online store that she had been planning for years — which took some web design skills that she had to learn by doing — and moving all of her inventory to a new point of sale system.
She said her staff jokes that “it just took a pandemic for you to get it done.”
During that time Garcia-Rubio encouraged her employees to file for unemployment.
The store held a soft reopening in July — starting on a weekend and not announcing on social media so that they could work out their safety protocols. For Jackson, the process was “a little overwhelming” at first, but she was excited to be back.
Maude Vintage began to operate on a more normal, but still slightly reduced, schedule because Garcia-Rubio didn’t want her workers to lose hours. She received one Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan last fall and recently received another.
In September, Garcia-Rubio informed her landlord of her intention to not renew her lease before finding her next location.
While searching for her new space, Garcia-Rubio realized quickly that her extensive costume rental collection would not make it to the new location. The decision to sell the costume inventory was a difficult one.
Aspects of the costume rental service did wear on Garcia-Rubio and her time — it took her up to two months to launder all of the rentals from Halloween each year — but she still had goals and plans for it.
“I could have chose to stay here, but that would not have been sustainable,” Garcia-Rubio said. “I could have chose to get a bigger, cheaper place in a smaller town in order to keep them…. I could have tried to keep the costumes, but that would not have improved my lifestyle. And that is [of] the utmost importance.”
Sasha Goodnow, Garcia-Rubio’s best friend, has known her for nearly 20 years, has worked with her, and sells jewelry from her brand FabFab designs at Maude Vintage.
She’s traveled with Garcia-Rubio on her marathon vintage-buying road trips to Georgia. When traveling alone, or with her husband, Garcia-Rubio will sleep in her van along the way until she fills it with merchandise. Last year, Goodnow also began creating a documentary film about Maude Vintage.
Goodnow admires her friend’s ability to look at a situation and assess the bigger picture without holding onto “false realities.”
“There’s few people in my life that really are, like, fearless and so creative and she’s definitely one of them,” Goodnow said.
Goodnow also recognizes that Garcia-Rubio is able to separate herself as an individual from her business, which likely helps her make hard decisions like those in the past year. It came up in one of their interviews for Goodnow’s documentary.
“She’s like, ‘You know, I don’t think my friends hang out with me because I’m Maude, you know, they hang out with me because I’m me,’” Goodnow said.
Brett Wisman, owner of Consign & Design and Rubio-Garcia’s new landlord, has gotten to know Garcia-Rubio during his store’s six years in downtown Columbia. He had several people express interest in his retail space on 10th Street, but he wanted Garcia-Rubio to take it.
Wisman described the Maude team’s plans to change the flooring and paint the outside of the building with excitement.
“I think she’s someone that’s mature enough to know that even scary change, you know, can blossom into something really exciting and new and different,” Goodnow said.
Ruby Bailey is the Missourian’s executive editor.