Catching Up With Riley Grae: Meet The Mother-Daughter Duo Behind One of the Cutest Boutiques in Town
We sat down with Trish and Lauren Wittmann, co-owners of Riley Grae, to talk about everything from mullets to mental health.
This mother-daughter duo is as delightful as their Corydon Avenue boutique—and we covered a lot of ground in our time together—so, without further ado, let’s get into it.
GW: If Riley Grae as a brand was a drink on The Good Will menu, what would it be?
Lauren: “We have very opposite drink tastes.”
Trish: “I’ll enter your world of drinks, but you won’t enter my world of drinks.”
Lauren: “I tried—I don’t like beer.”
Trish: “I’m a beer person. Lauren has the same food groups as Elf: syrup, candy, candy corn.”
Lauren: “But I honestly don’t think Riley Grae would be a beer!”
Trish: “No, no, it wouldn’t. It has to be something cheery and fun. I was going to say a Shirley Temple. It can be bubbly and bright, and not intimidating because there’s no alcohol in it.”
Lauren: “Wanna know what I’m thinking? Little bit of alcohol.”
Lauren describes a pink and green drink to match the Riley Grae brand colours. Strawberry-flavoured, frozen, with a bit of alcohol — plus a lime wedge and cherry on top.
The Riley Grae brand is unmistakable. Their very first location, which opened in 2019, featured a rainbow staircase leading into a basement suite packed with darling accessories, quirky knickknacks, and whimsical stationery galore. Then, just 7 months after their grand opening, COVID hit.
Trish and Lauren persevered. In January 2021, after a tricky 8-month-long occupancy journey, Riley Grae moved above ground and down the street to 701 Corydon Ave.
With this move, they upsized and now offer over 1,000 SKUs including books, snacks, home goods, skincare, and more.
With a cloud-covered change room and large windows, the sunny new space still upholds the bubbly vibe Riley Grae originally launched with. That said, the store does make room for products that honour the anxious, burnt-out, soft-hearted, and pandemic pummelled.
A keychain that reads God bless my shitty overpriced apartment, a strawberry-shaped stress ball, and a glass banana to smoke from. That sort of thing.
Trish has 30+ years of retail experience. Lauren, a graphic design grad and crafty person by nature, has been selling her creations at markets under the brand name “Riley Grae” since she was just 15 years old.
Riley Grae as we know it today came to be when Trish and Lauren both decided it was time for a career change.
Lauren: “I just realized how important it is for me to work on things that I care about, that I’m passionate about, that I get to have creative freedom for — and one of the only times you can do that is if you’re your own boss.”
Trish: “I was at a point in my life where I [thought]: do I want to try something new or do I just want to sit back and get out of the working ‘scene’? Maybe not work, or slow down a little bit...I kind of did the opposite of that.”
GW: Can you look your business partner in the eyes and give them a compliment on what they bring to the store?
Trish (to Lauren): “You bring beautiful energy, positivity, and creativity.”
Lauren (to Trish): “The word that I would use to describe your energy is motivated. I think a lot of us would stay home in bed if you didn’t encourage us to keep going.”
GW: What does motivate you?
Lauren: “You really just like making people have a nice time in the space that we’ve created.”
Trish: “I do. It’s funny, when you’re younger, you’re like ‘ugh, I got the customer service job, I just work behind the till’...To me, that is the most important job in the store. I do not take that lightly. I have impeccable customer service skills and standards…What else drives me is the success of my child...and children, collectively”
Trish gestures broadly to the store around her.
Riley Grae shares its space with four other local businesses: Die Blume, Gray Beauty, Nails Thank You, and Never Better Coffee.
Trish: “I want all these folks to succeed. I’ve done my time. If we had to close tomorrow — zero regrets. I’ve experienced what I want to experience. I know what I want and what I enjoy. So, it’s now about guiding all these folks on that same path.”
Some of the goodies in store are actually designed by Lauren. These days, Lauren doesn’t get as much studio time as they’d like, but as the store and its team grow, creating more time for studio work is definitely a priority.
Trish: “I’m always in the mindset of ‘hey, we’re Riley Grae and we're settled’. We have our focus and we have our goals, but in actuality, we are so young and ever-evolving. We’re always evolving to fit the needs of the store and the people in the store.”
GW: What kind of criteria do you have when you’re looking for products to stock?
Lauren: “We look for things we feel you can’t really find in the city. There are a lot of super talented artists and small brands in the city, but why not shop directly with them? So, we’re trying to bring in things that are special, unique, but still all independently designed, handmade, or small-owned.”
Lauren: “We don’t have a lot of necessities, it’s a lot of stuff that would make a good gift or something that you would get to treat yourself.”
Trish: “Yes, indulgent — but indulgent can also be affordable.”
Lauren: “We try not to have anything over $100. We try to have a very inclusive space, and that includes affordability.”
Trish: “My part of the job is: where does it come from, how much money is it, what kind of profit margin is there—”
Lauren: “We balance so well. You’re like the business and I’m like the party. We’re like a mullet.”
Trish: “I’m a mullet?”
Lauren: “No, we’re a mullet.”
GW: You’ve really grown your business during some pretty tough times. Is there a lesson you’ve learned since opening Riley Grae?
Trish: “I don’t think everyone could say this, but I have truly learned to trust our gut. Every time we want to take a chance or a risk, it’s worked out—knock on wood.”
Lauren: “Yeah, I think at the start we were a lot more timid. A lesson I’ve learned is that it does no good to compare yourself or your store to anything else. I’m not gonna obsess over anything that makes me feel like I’m not working hard enough or doing enough.”
Trish: “I’m rarely on social media because I can get down that rabbit hole quite easily, and I’ve learned that I don’t need to know what so and so is doing or what so and so is carrying. We trust ourselves that we can come up with that on our own.”
In addition to running one of the cutest shops in the city, Lauren performs as part of Virgo Rising, a local bedroom pop band that always attracts a crowd when they perform on our stage. Trish holds the local music scene close to her heart, too.
GW: Can you talk about the music section you have in-store?
Trish: “Everything we carry [in the music section] is local bands’ music and merch. And we take a very small percentage because artists always struggle, never mind during this whole pandemic.”
Trish and Lauren want to share their sunny space with the community as much as possible.
This summer, they’ll be hosting a series of outdoor mini-markets. Every weekend in June, July, and August (weather permitting), 5 vendors will set up outside Riley Grae with tons of cute products in tow.
Lauren and Trish both know that craft markets can be overwhelming, and they hope these mini-markets will be a more positive experience for makers who are new to the game.
Lauren: “You have more time to chat, it feels cozier. We’re hosting a lot of people who this is their first market ever.”
Trish: “We really like being able to give them that exposure and experience.”
Follow the shop on Instagram and stay tuned for more mini-market news.
In the meantime, swing by to the browse the store, treat yourself to something sweet, or pick up your favourite feel-good activewear—Good Will Exercise Club is available now at Riley Grae!