At age 23, Caroline Dengel is a girl on the move — and we mean that literally.
In just over a year, the Avon native skipped out on school at the King's College in New York, moved to Tennessee for a brief stint as a nanny, and landed back in Northeast Ohio where she's since opened the region's first and only mobile boutique. "I can't be stuck in one place," she says with a laugh. And so a business plan emerged to suit her personality.
Enter the Wandering Wardrobe —Cleveland's store on wheels that caters to fashion-forward women who, like Dengel, are on the go. About the size of a small food truck, the Wandering Wardrobe, affectionately nicknamed "Wanda," sports racks of flirty dresses, chic tops and designer bags, as well as select resale items, all artfully arranged to maximize space and keep shoppers from feeling cramped.
"I'm hoping to expand the dressing room," she says — yep, her truck has one of those too — but for now, Dengel is occupied with keeping fresh products in stock from her L.A. supplier (she often updates her racks between morning and afternoon events), managing a demanding schedule of festivals and farmers markets, and figuring out the logistics of driving (and parking) her Craigslist-purchased ride. Did we mention she's planning a tour of area colleges in the fall too?
She's also actively establishing a customer base by parking her boutique at regular spots each week — at Gordon Square Market, on East Ninth, at the Tremont Farmers' Market — and by partnering with local businesses for themed events, such as a bi-monthly Brunch 'n Shop at Lakewood's El Carnicero. Chances are, no matter where you are, Dengel will find you. The Cleveland Flea has exploded and so have opportunities for small business owners of all types — food, fashion, jewelry, art — to mingle and share in the market love. So if you're shopping for, say, some Cleveland Kraut, you might also stumble upon a dynamite top.
Currently, Dengel says, her customers are mostly impulse shoppers, women who stop in during a lunch break or before whizzing off to pick up produce. She also recalls averting a fashion emergency or two, like when one memorable customer forgot clothes for an after-work Tribe game. "I had a pair of J. Crew shorts and a T-shirt on the racks," Dengel says. "The woman ran in, changed, walked out and went to the game. It was great."
Despite her mobile reputation, Dengel says she isn't going anywhere any time soon. "Cleveland is home and I always knew I'd end up here," she says. "I've set up shop and I'm staying around." Visit her online at wanderingcle.com to see where she's parking next.