By Andrew Wroblewski
Joanna Koelmel is used to stepping into a new, unfamiliar environment. Born in Dubai, a city in the United Arab Emirates, Koelmel made the move to America as an 11-year-old after the first Gulf War. Koelmel adapted and now, more than two decades later, she’s stepped into yet another new environment: Koelmel is now a first-time business owner.
“I’ve wanted to do this for about 10 years,” Koelmel, co-owner of Blue Bird NY Boutique, a women’s store, in Huntington village, said. “But when I first looked into how much work it was going to take… to make that [career change] would have been huge.”
She started as a teacher in Wantagh and then Brooklyn with a master’s degree in education, and she made her first career change when she joined up with Ralph Lauren in 2006. There she remained, but as Koelmel, her husband and their two children set roots in Huntington Bay in 2007, the itch for another change was too much for her to shake off. Koelmel wanted a business in Huntington village and she was ready to take on the challenge alongside her childhood friend, and co-owner of Blue Bird, Gail Saab – who actually resides in Dubai and helps with buying, merchandising and more.
“We’ve both always wanted this, from different views though. She’s not in the industry, but she’s always had the passion for it,” Koelmel said. “I’m a big nerd when it comes to [learning]. I read a million books, took workshops and courses – I don’t like entering into something unless I’m fully educated in it. Obviously I know I don’t know everything about [running a business], but I have a solid foundation and I’m building on [it] with my day-to-day experiences in the store.”
At Blue Bird, which opened in September 2014, Koelmel and Saab have set out to capture the middle ground of the women’s boutique market. Wanting a shop with a mid-range price point that doesn’t sacrifice quality and keeps up with current fashion trends, Koelmel believes women of all ages can come in and find something to fall in love with.
“[When we first started] our demographic was actually 25-55, which is broad,” she said. “[Four months later] I still cannot narrow that down; we have something for everybody here.”
Mother-daughter shopping teams, she said, are typical customers who come in to browse Blue Bird’s “multifunctional and very versatile” selection of tops, bottoms, cover-ups, jackets, accessories, jewelry and more; and the best part, Koelmel said, is that customers are not breaking the bank.
“I want to be able to walk into a store when I’m going out to dinner with my husband and I don’t want to break the bank,” she said. “But I’d love a new top that I can spend $60-70 on, feel good, look good and have it be good quality – but I’m not spending $400 on a random Tuesday.”
In that spirit, Blue Bird is currently hosting a 30- to 50-percent off sale on select items. Once February rolls around, an even bigger push will be made as the season changes, with sales of around 50-percent off affecting almost all of Blue Bird’s inventory. But the best part, Koelmel said, comes exclusive to the joys of boutique shopping: the diversity of the selection that can’t be found at big-name department stores.
“At the end of the day,” she said, “you don’t want to be wearing what everybody else is wearing.”
Blue Bird NY Boutique
324 Main St., Huntington