‘Zanna will stay Zanna’: Longtime Amherst boutique changes hands, but will still bring fashion touch from European cities to shoppers

  • Sue Ellen Bisgaard places a boot in a display at Zanna in Amherst, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Amy Benson, who is the new owner of Zanna in Amherst, stands by a display, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Above, Adam Lussier and Amy Benson at Zanna in Amherst. Lussier has sold the business to Benson. STAFF PHOTOS/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Sweaters hang on a display at Zanna in Amherst, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Sweaters hang on a display in the store. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Accessories greet customers. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Shoes from Sacha of London are displayed at Zanna in Amherst, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A display of merchandise greets customers.

  • Sinead McArdle, left, helps a customer at Zanna in Amherst, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kim Suarez makes adjustments to a display of boots at Zanna. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kim Suarez, left, helps a customer at Zanna in Amherst, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 12/2/2018 3:53:22 PM

AMHERST — An independent boutique that has brought the latest in fashions from London, Paris and Milan to downtown Amherst for nearly half-a-century is beginning a new chapter.

Amy Benson, who previously spent 17 years as a buyer for Zanna, recently purchased the business from Adam Lussier, who has owned the mainstay anchor in Amherst center after buying it in 2011 from his mother and founder, Mina Lussier.

“Zanna will stay Zanna,” Benson said in a recent interview at the 187 North Pleasant St. store that sells clothing, shoes and brand-name accessories.

“It’s an absolutely gorgeous store, so why would I change that?” Benson said. “We’re not broken. There’s nothing that needs to be fixed.”

Benson said she will carry on a philosophy that has guided Zanna since Mina Lussier started the Shoe Bin in 1971, and was joined by husband Sam in the late 1980s as the store expanded to carrying an extensive clothing line alongside the footwear.

“Zanna is clothing that is artistic, but very wearable,” Benson said. “Zanna caters to all sizes, from extra small to 2x, because we feel everyone should participate in fashion.”

Adam Lussier said Zanna’s focus is on the day in the life of a woman, at play, at work, heading to a special occasion or just relaxing, and no matter whether she is the mother, the daughter or the grandmother in the family.

“Our clothing, accessories and footwear match up to make that possible,” Lussier said.

The brands Zanna carries include Sympli, Comfy USA, Born Footwear, Frye boots, AG Jean, Dansko, Rieker, NYDJ, Zilch and BY-BAR Amsterdam. Benson said staff interprets trends to find what is wearable for customers, often traveling to the European fashion capitals, as well as New York City.

“Customers are always looking for something new and fresh and updated,” Benson said. “We help them to add on the wardrobes or to create new ones, because not everything stays in style.”

“We’re buying for our market, we’re buying for our women, and taking the looks from other parts of the world that can be translated to her life,” Lussier said.

The storefront has grown to 3,500 square feet where there is a breadth of brands and categories.

“We put a lot under one roof,” Lussier said. “We are described as a mini department store.”

A reciprocal and symbiotic relationship with customers allows Zanna to help them incorporate new items into their wardrobes, Lussier said. “We have a customer relationship built on trust,” he said. “We’re part of their shopping ecosystem.”

“They know us,” Benson said. “We have that personal relationship, that touch.”

Lussier and Benson are not disclosing the sale price. Lussier said he decided in late summer that he was ready to move on after owning Zanna for the past seven years, and being involved in the store in the mid-1990s, as well. After informing the 10 employees of the likely sale, Benson learned about the possibility of buying the business where she had always felt part of the family.

Benson first came on in 1994, while still in college, and and was a marketer and buyer as Zanna grew to three locations, including Brattleboro, Vermont and Williamstown.

After the Brattleboro store closed in 1997, a Northampton location opened in 2000. For the past 10 years, though, Amherst has been sole location, with Williamstown closing after a fire damaged the building, and Northampton shuttering in 2007 after the building was sold.

Though Benson had been in the medical field for seven years, most recently running the blood donor program for Baystate Medical Center, retail remained her passion.

“I feel very grateful that Adam reached out to me,” Benson said, noting that before making the plunge to buy Zanna she met with Mina Lussier.

Benson said she is excited to be back and fit right in. “I always felt like I was part of the family,” Benson said.

Like most retailers, Zanna is faced with a situation in which people are doing more shopping online. If any changes do come in the future, Benson said one possibility is online sales, and another is pop-up stores in other communities.

Mina Lussier said she sees the sale as a “natural transition” for the business.

“It’s perfect. It couldn’t get any better passing the family business to Adam and then for Adam to pass it to Amy,” she said. “I feel so comfortable and secure and happy for Adam, Amy, coworkers and the community that she will carrying forth what’s always been expected from Zanna for downtown Amherst.”

Adam Lussier said Benson brings a fresh vision and fresh eye to merchandising.

“I could not have scripted it better than to have Amy as the next proprietor of the business,” Lussier said, adding that he will be ready for his own new adventures and ventures following a two-month transition.

“I’ve always wanted to have my own store, that’s always been my dream, and what better store to own than Zanna,” Benson said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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