Meet Your Merchant: California 89 aims to be on highway to success

Jennifer Luna
Special to the Sun
Courtesy Jennifer Luna Lisa Gotts stands in her store, California 89, which opened a few weeks ago in the Brickelltown district of downtown Truckee.

TRUCKEE, Calif. – The speed limit on California Highway 89 is no quicker than the speed Lisa Gotts moved only a mere few weeks ago to set up shop in downtown Truckee.

California 89, the town’s newest apparel and lifestyle goods store, opened Dec. 22, 2012, just two weeks after moving into its location in the downtown Brickelltown district.

“It was a mad dash,” Gotts said. “We did the whole store in 10 days.”

Last October, Gotts designed and purchased her merchandise, but it wasn’t until December that she was able to secure a location. Gotts said her contractor told her there was no way crews could turn the space into California 89, but Gotts had a vision and opened her store a few days before Christmas.

“People were asking me if I was a chain, and I was saying, ‘I’ve only been open two days,'” Gotts said with a laugh.

Slightly based off the historic U.S. Route 66, California 89’s logo is a California Highway sign. The store sells athletic wear bearing the logo, as well as items such as hats, pint glasses and iPhone covers.

With Gotts’ background in sales and design help from her sister, Lin Vermeulen, the women created a brand they hope will appeal to both locals and tourists. Last September, the sisters went to New York City and Paris scouring for retail and design ideas, Gotts said.

Walking the streets of neighborhoods like SoHo and Chelsea, both in Manhattan, they saw what they could learn from each store and how they could perfect their own brand.

“We were like sponges,” Vermeulen said. “Looking, talking, taking pictures. We focused on looking at how other retailers make big impacts with low-cost, simple solutions.”

The store has a clean look – black, white and gray – and an edgy, user-friendly feel. Antique cameras and old photos decorate the warehouse-like interior. Wooden pallets are used to display merchandise, and a flat screen TV near the back plays Warren Miller ski films.

Gotts says she’s always loved the Truckee-Tahoe area, and after 20 years working in sales, she longed to start something of her own and leave the corporate world.

“I knew at some point I’d get out of it,” she said.

It wasn’t until she snapped a photo of her husband and his bike in front of the state route sign that she had the idea for California 89.

“From South Tahoe up to Shasta, the highway is such a beautiful drive,” Gotts said. “I just thought, ‘I have to do it.'”

Gotts hopes to one day design everything herself, letting her brand speak to a lifestyle in the Truckee-Tahoe area. She plans to expand her apparel to include biking wear in the summer and bring in more colors for the spring.

“Winter sports, summer sports – it’s got everything that’s great to do up here,” Gotts said.

Vermeulen agreed: “It’s a playground like no other.”

Gotts aims to personify that idea with her brand. She plans to work with other local businesses and do promotions with ski resorts, developing California 89’s presence both online and in the community.

“Just a T-shirt shop – that’s the furthest from what I want to be,” Gotts said. “I want to work with the community, bring everybody together.”

With that in mind, Gotts’ ideas for mobile fashion trucks and a California 89 team for the Lake Tahoe Triathlon are in the works. She said she hopes to one day open a few more locations along the famous Sierra highway.

“People come in and tell me, ‘I drive this road everyday,'” Gotts said. “Or they recognize the highway and want to take something home from the area.”

Gotts’ store is located at 10156 Donner Pass Road and is open Tuesday-Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. California 89 will have its grand opening on Saturday, Feb. 23.

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