There’s an intersection between history, art and retail, and within that small space is a very special place called the Great Republic. This truly original shop features everything from a first edition copy of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” to a Civil War-era American flag to American-made steel dinner bells. We spoke with store founder Eddie Papczun about his Colorado Springs store and his upcoming shop in Washington DC. We discussed how his passion for antiques and his dedication to Made in the USA items set the stage to create a once-in-a-lifetime shopping experience.
Tell us a little about The Great Republic, how you got started, and your role there?
I’m the founder of the business. I have a background in specialty retail. I founded a golf antiques business back in 1995 called Golf Links To the Past which was out of a shop in Pebble Beach. I have an affinity to creating unique retail experiences and it was always my intention to get back into specialty retail, but in a way that wasn't being done anywhere else that I had ever seen. I wanted to really focus on a great shopping experience for men, because I've always felt that men don’t have a lot of great shopping experiences.
I didn't want it to be an apparel shop, there are plenty of menswear clothing stores out there, so I didn't have any interest in that at all. I leveraged my love of history and the antique and a passion for searching, finding and partnering with boutique manufacturers to create an American experience, a celebration of America. We celebrate America in antiquity with antiques and unique items that you will not see anywhere else, but then we also celebrate America in handcrafted goods. I love that young people seem to have a real connection to crafting things with their hands and there seems to be a real movement where entrepreneurly-minded individuals are creating really cool made in America items that are a great fit for the Great Republic. That’s how I approach this business model, we are certainly an antique shop in a sense, but not in any traditional sense, and we also have this wonderful collection of handcrafted US goods.
Clearly locating unique and authentic items is a large part of your business. How do you go about sourcing and authenticating new items for your store?
You turn a lot of rocks over and sooner or later you’ll find something really unique and interesting. The items are floating around out there, we find things at a lot of auctions and estate sales. The items find me, because I've been in the business so long, so someone will tell someone and I’ll get a phone call out of the blue. Often, clients end up becoming suppliers. Certainly I do a lot of work searching on the internet for specific items. I know that American Pickers and Antique Roadshow are quite popular, I will tell you that is not my model. I’m not at sales every weekend hoping to find a diamond in the rough, it’s very difficult. You could go to 15 flea markets and not find anything, so I don’t do that at all. I know what I’m looking for and the big thing is once I get it I know how to present it in such a way that it’s going to resonate with our client base. We really put a lot into presentation, if you walk through the Great Republic, you wouldn't think of it as an antique shop, we’re really more of an art gallery that’s all handcrafted goods. For the unique items we carry that are made in the US, I go to trade shows. I’m trying to find that one guy in a little 10 by 10 booth and trying to see if that product will resonate with my client base and end up getting part of the product connection.
When I started the Great Republic I opened initially at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, and I got a great space. It’s a 5 star, 5 diamond property. The thing I said about the Broadmoor was, that was my beta test, and I’m throwing spaghetti at the refrigerator to see if it will stick. I took all of the lessons learned in the last 20 months, and I’m applying those to how I do the product mix for the upcoming DC store, which is going to be much more visible store because of the location. We’ll be in a shopping complex that features Salvatore Ferragamo, Carolina Herrera, Canali, all of the great brands, luxury brands. My next door neighbor is Tom Colicchio’s pastry chef from his flagship, she’s opened her own little shop called Rare Sweets, and so I think of her as a kindred spirit, because we’re kind of the small, entrepreneurial small businesses in this sea of luxury goods.
You offer such a wide variety of items, from original books to Made In America soaps. What makes you decide something is a good fit for The Great Republic?
I serve as the curator and the buyer for the shop. At the end of the day, I trust my own taste, if I like it, I figure it’s a good fit for the shop. My big misstep, and it’s not really a big one, but my misstep was that I brought in a lot of grooming products initially into the Broadmoor store, and we found that though grooming does sell, I think the consumer has a lot of options on that front. When we go into DC, you’ll see a much smaller, slimmed down section. We’ll still have grooming, but it’s going to be more unique and we’re not going to try to create a whole grooming section per say, we’re just going to blend in some grooming.
Could you walk us through why you decided to carry the Snake Bite?
I saw the product and just immediately thought this is the perfect kind of product to put at your point of sale. It’s a entry price point for us and it’s an easy walk-away item. People come into the shop and they have such a spiritual connection to what’s going on in there, but sometimes they just can’t afford the things that are hanging on the wall or sitting on the table. Something like the Snake Bite opener, that’s an item that anyone can pick up. I see it as an item that someone can take away as a remembrance of the Great Republic. It’s just one of those cool, Made In America items that I love.
What inspires you to keep doing what you are doing on a daily basis?
I’m married to an Air Force general, and I’m a former Air Force officer myself, so our life is a fairly fluid situation. We’re constantly moving and we’re going to move again this summer. For me, I had to create something for myself that got me excited about getting up every morning and I feel blessed that I have this love and passion for retail and history and cool products and cool designs. I marry all of those loves and passions together and I have these stores. I don’t live near my Colorado store, or my DC store unless my wife gets transferred over there. I have to be an owner in absence, and sometimes that’s a little frustrating, because I’d like to be able to walk in the shop and get a state of how it’s going. But I just love it, I’m excited about getting up in the morning and figuring out, how do I make that experience better for the consumer. Everyone that comes into the Great Republic is just blown away, there’s nothing like it. I've married together a lot of different disciplines here and so you’ll see shops that are good at elements of what my shop represents, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a shop that brought it all together under one thing and has this patriotic component to it.
I’m working with the architects in DC right now and our expectation is to create one of the great shopping experiences in America. We’re going to raise the bar ourselves because of the clientele we’ll attract in that space, because of the surrounding shops and the amount of energy that’s gone into making that a success. I think of DC as home, we still own a condo there, so for me to see the city that I've adopted get this great shopping experience, and that I’ll be part of it, it’s pretty cool. I’m very excited and feel extremely blessed to be where I am at the moment.
You are expanding to Washington DC this Spring- do you hope to have additional locations in the future?
I think in the near-term I see myself focusing on the two stores we have, and just building the brand a bit more and getting some press about it. Down the road I would always entertain putting a store in the right situation, and that’s crucial. I won’t do it to just do it, I would never expand this business just for the sake of expanding it. I think if we could be in the right situation, I’d absolutely consider that. It has be the right situation and we have to be sensitive to controlling the growth so that we don’t grow beyond our capacity to deliver a great experience to the consumer.
Let’s get the DC store up and running, get the right people to go there to manage it and run and you know I’m open to have those conversations. We’re not J Crew, you’re not going to find one in every major metropolitan city in the United States.
The Great Republic supports the Made In America movement. Why do you think this is important for the future of retail in our country?
I think you look at the political landscape and the foreign policy landscape at the moment and I think it gives a lot of Americans pause. They see that we've outsourced our manufacturing capacity to countries that are not necessarily overly friendly to us. So we are global trading partners and we do business with these different entities, and I think a lot Americans are kind of fed up, and they want to find items that are made in our country.
I just think that a lot of Americans will pay the extra; they’re tired of buying mass-produced items coming from abroad. It’s nice to see that companies like Snake Bite doing things that show a passion for the production of the item, the design of the item and giving the consumer a really cool experience where they can say, yes, this is made in the US, it’s made in America.
We’re big proponents of the movement. Unfortunately, there are some great items out there, but you ask where their manufacturing is and they said it’s offshore, and that’s it for us. We just don’t go there. And I get it, I understand, they’re trying to have a competitive price point and if you’re someone, you’re trying to get in a large retail you need to be able to come in and be competitive on price, but we are a specialty store, so we are going to embrace the small, hand-crafted vendors like and Snake Bite.
That’s just who we are. If someone looks at one of our items, it’s made in America, and we think that counts for a lot. Made in America is a premium worth paying for, in my opinion, and that’s what we’re about, celebrating America.
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