The original version of this column has been updated to reflect that the Margate Knit Wit will remain open year-round.
When the Knit Wit in Bryn Mawr closed its doors for good last month, those of us in constant search of cozy, appropriate-for-work separates like Norma Kamali jumpsuits and Michael Stars T-shirts were tasked with finding a new place to shop.
But Ann Gitter’s decision to shutter her Lancaster Avenue store — the last Knit Wit in Philadelphia and surrounding suburbs — means more than just bye-bye to a favorite shopping destination. Knit Wit was one of the last local, long-stay brick-and-mortar stores. And it was Gitter’s fashion expertise that guided the region through the past 50 years of denim — through Gloria Vanderbilt, Seven, and now Mother.
So, although Gitter and her business partners Don Davidow and Bob Brandt plan to keep their Margate store open, that will be her full-time focus. And although the local brick-and-mortar Knit Wit has now sadly gone the way of once trendsetting specialty boutiques like Claire Dickson, First Impressions, and Toby Lerner, Gitter wants everyone to know she’s not leaving the fashion business entirely.
Still the reasons behind Gitter’s decision are many: Rising rents. Our online shopping habits. And face it, we aren’t nearly as trend-obsessed as we once were. But, in the end, 72-year-old Gitter said the choice was about lifestyle: “There are so many things I want to do on my bucket list."
So what’s Gitter’s take on the future of fashion? What’s on her bucket list? We asked her.
I want to stay in business; I don’t want to do it 24/7, 365 days a year anymore. Retail is a brutal business. It’s all or nothing. If I want to take a trip, I want to go more than four days. I’ve worked so hard for so many years. I just want to be able to breathe a bit. If I want to go to New York for a fun day at the theater, not just work...
Could I have signed another lease? Yes, I could have. But honestly, the rents are bad. The rents are bad everywhere. It’s why independents are closing. When you look at the rents in relation to the volume, it gets hard to justify it. I had a great business, but when the rent goes up, the money has to come from somewhere.
So when it comes down to it, that’s why. And it’s OK, because now I have time to do all the things I’ve wanted to do.
Lots of trips. All around the world. I want to see Asia, Africa, Vietnam, Cambodia. Everywhere. I want to go everywhere I haven’t been, while I can still go. I want to take those kinds of trips that you have to stay a while, 10 days, two weeks, a whole month. That’s what I want to do.
The vibe now is all about shared spaces. Like you just can’t have a cute boutique. Now you have to have a full coffee bar inside that turns into a wine bar after 4 p.m. It’s about providing a place to gather. When two businesses come together, then you can share the rent. Then people can make money. Then it starts to make sense again.
This is why I’m going to have a pop-up Knit Wit. We are thinking about five. Two on the Main Line and three in Center City. Pop-ups create a certain amount of excitement to retail. I get to put fresh merchandise in the store, because I build a whole store from scratch in a different location. And that’s exciting for me and my customers. People come in because they don’t want to miss what we have.
Casual. It’s very casual. I try to make sure everything is familiar, but still a little different. People are only really buying what’s not in their closet. They want the familiar with a new sleeve, a new hem or a new neckline. They don’t want the same old.
Not really. There was a time when people would cut things out of magazines and bring it to me. They want a top like this or a pant like this. Nobody does that anymore. Everybody just wants to be unique.
Hot pants (also known as Daisy Dukes or short shorts).
One year I bought a lot of angora sweaters, and people didn’t like them at all. It was around the time contact lenses came out and the fuzzies were getting in their eyes. Every now and then I pick a bad color. Like one year in the ’80s, I bought a French line in black, navy, and dark purple and the purple was a complete bomb. We get bad colors certain years, not bad items.