Dwelling Outside the Box

Perhaps it’s a coincidence that a lighted sign outside the entrance to Dwelling Spaces Interiors reads, “THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE DOME,” but Mary Beth Babcock, co-owner of Tulsa’s newest downtown redemption story, doesn’t seem to think so.

“Before we started the renovations, this place was raw, dusty, red brick, but I just loved the surroundings, loved the atmosphere. I just want to be involved in the energy that is going on downtown,” said Babcock. “When we started to look for a location. We looked in Brookside, down south, and Cherry Street, many different places. People were telling me things like ‘its all about location.’ Now while I believe that to be true, I can just see (downtown) happening all around me.”

Dwelling Spaces opened its new location, 119 S. Detroit Ave., on Aug. 4.

For Babcock, disregarding the “location” mantra isn’t the first time she has defied conventional wisdom along the path to her stores’ grand opening.

After college at Oklahoma State and two years in Dallas, ultimately it was the draw of family that brought Babcock back to Tulsa. But it took a bit of luck and an old friend to set her on her way to an opening in the downtown that most retail establishments are avoiding.

“After some soul searching, I decided that I wanted to do my own thing, so I went to talk to Jack Allen, who was a friend from college,” Babcock said. “I wanted to get some business advice from him. So I went to him and asked him what I needed do to go about opening a business. He started telling me all about Dwelling Spaces and informed me that he had planned to close his store and move all his furniture to this space (Detroit Avenue location) for storage, but continue to keep showing it every now and then.”

“Then, In the middle of the conversation, he said to me, ‘Why don’t we just go in together?’ It shocked me. I said to him ‘Are you sure you don’t need more time to think about this?’”

Babcock now owns 90 percent of Dwelling Spaces and has invested “around $60,000” in her venture.

To the naked eye, the 2,000-SF Dwelling Spaces might look like any home furnishings and upscale gift store, but Babcock envisions her store as catering to a “lifestyle.”

“I want it to be a place where people can come and actually hang out and be visually stimulated,” she said. “I know it’s a store, but I want it to be a place where people can feel comfortable hanging out. A cool place where people can check out the furniture, have a seat, a drink, and read if they want to.”

“We will add music to set the atmosphere, it will be hip, it will be upbeat, but it wont be Abercrombie and Fitch, where the music is so loud that it hurts your head.”

Babcock envisions customer service as the centerpiece of Dwelling Spaces’ charm and claims that when the store opens, there will likely only be two employees.

“I place a lot of emphasis on customer service, if a customer comes in and the employees are bored out of their mind, then the customer will be, too, and they won’t come back,” she said. “But, as of right now, I will be the only full-time employee. Jack plans to work one day a week.”

According to Babcock, the use and presentation of the facility will be guided by her vision of what a home store should be, and that vision could be quite fluid. She suggests that the store could go as far as carrying “cool” vintage furniture, works by Tulsa artists, and hard to find music.

“I would also like to have art showings, when I find a local artist that I like, I will bring in their work and have special events scheduled around that. Musicians that fit the environment might also be here from time to time.”

Even some of the marketing that Babcock has undertaken would seem a bit unorthodox to the general buying public, as it is geared toward those that share her same interest in a “lifestyle.”

Interestingly enough, an online social networking site popular with today’s young people (and criticized by several of the not-so-young) has become the store’s most powerful marketing tool.

“Personally, I have been on myspace.com for a long time, and I have seen how I was getting the word on things like shows that were going on around town, about art showings. It’s just a cool way to promote yourself. I thought when I started to do this, ‘why not build a Dwelling Spaces myspace page?’”

“As far as myspace goes, for my age group, everybody uses it. It’s a great way to get your name out there.”

The first Dwelling Spaces announcements made on “myspace”, Babcock said, were the unveiling of the store’s new website, www.dwellingspaces.net, and the announcement that the store opened Aug. 4.

“I’ve had so much fun through all this. We’re not even open yet, but I have used pictures of the lines that I love, and I have used the blog space to post information about the store. When we finished our website, I posted a bulletin that said ‘Hey, check out the site, it’s up.’” ?

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