By Diane Averill
“It’s a challenge to have any kind of retail [store] these days,” said Susanne Gaetano, during a break between customers at her cozy boutique women’s clothing shop, Panache.
And challenge, she has had.
After pulling up stakes after 35 years on Centre Avenue in East Liberty, Susanne happily settled Panache into new digs at 5810 Bryant Street in 2018. “I love Highland Park,” she said, having bought her home here in 1986. “I live right around the
corner [from the store].”
Two years after the move came COVID, with mandatory closings and the pandemic’s pressure on every sort of business. It was a challenge even for the long-established entrepreneur, whose career goes back to her days as a buyer for Gimbel’s department store, a Pittsburgh fixture that closed during the 1980s. In spite of it all, she kept the business going.
Then, in the Fall of 2022, management changed hands at her Bryant Street location. Panache’s lease was not renewed.
What to do? Where to go? As luck would have it, just one block down, to 5910 Bryant Street.
The new space is smaller, and Susanne has already knocked out a wall to expand it, with a few more renovations to come; but it’s a cheerful space, artfully arranged and overlooked by a colorfully decorated, pressed tin ceiling, a popular architectural feature of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Panache carries exclusive lines of high-quality casual wear from makers in the US and Canada, preferably woman-owned, and only in washable, organic cotton, linen and bamboo. Organic fabrics, Susanne explained, have not been chemically treated; for linen, that means none of the sizing that has given linen a reputation for excessive wrinkling. If it’s organic linen, she said, “You can wash it, hang it to dry and wear it.” Perhaps the most unusual characteristic of the apparel at Panache is that everything has pockets.
While she keeps to styles that are not trendy but have a timeless look, Susanne has moved with the times. When new stock arrives, the first thing she does is to take photographs and post them on Instagram, where clients from all across the country peruse the offerings and place their orders. She still has clients who first visited her East Liberty store in 1983, and some of them, she said, send her pictures to show her that they are still wearing items that they bought from her back then.
Perhaps the most frequent question Susanne has to field is not about fabrics or ethical sourcing, but the shop’s logo, which she designed. “Do you know that’s wrong?” ask countless visitors whose knowledge of French extends at least as far as knowing that the word “panache” does not carry an accent over the “e.”
“Panache,” said Susanne, “means ‘style’ in French.” So she added a bit of her own, for the look.