Dallas merchant Brian Bolke does it again with The Conservatory in Highland Park Village
Brian Bolke, who views retail as a “people business,” says his customers gave him the confidence to open a store at the start of the pandemic and an even bigger one now in Highland Park Village.
The Conservatory on Two, nestled on the second level above Highland Park Village, is a 9,000 square foot store he expanded from the 3,850 square foot store he opened during what s turned out to be a record year for store closings.
It’s in a bustling neighborhood, with The Park House Dallas private social club above, Chanel and Starbucks below, and views of 70 luxury stores in the Village mall.
Stephen Summers, managing partner of Highland Park Village, said when Bolke leased the space in March 2020 it was at an uncertain time, but Bolke knew what he was doing.
“Brian definitely has the Dallas buyer’s pulse,” Summers said. “He has a very good eye and he knows what his clients want before they know it. He knows who he is buying for.
The Conservatory has generated annual sales of over $2,000 per square foot. The new store opens Monday.
Bolke has created a boutique that is both exclusive and inviting, selling women’s and men’s clothing and accessories, homewares and fragrances, beauty products, flowers (mainly houseplants), gifts, books and jewelry.
“A lot of what I love is already in other stores in Dallas,” Bolke said. “I look for what is not on the market. And that’s why people come to us, why they bring their hard-to-please mother-in-law from out of town or pick up a gift for the hard-to-buy brother.
Bolke grew up in California and first experienced Dallas and its taste for luxury as a young visitor. Her parents moved to Dallas in 1986 after she graduated from high school. He stayed to attend the University of California.
That summer, when he came to visit, his mother took him to Stanley Korshak, which had just opened in the Crescent.
“It was the most beautiful store, so amazing and lived up to the dallas TV show and the incredibleness of Dallas,” Bolke said.
In 1994 he moved to Dallas and never left. He came here to be the visual director of the Pottery Barn on Knox Street, which was the first Pottery Barn in Texas.
Bolke has an enviable client list that he started building the day the Pottery Barn opened.
He helped a client to reach her car. They struck up a conversation and continued talking after the pillows and other pool accessories were loaded. It was hot outside. She invited him to freshen up because they hadn’t finished talking.
That client was Jennie Reeves, a well-connected Dallas socialite and charity fundraiser. His daughter is DJ Lucy Wroubelwho lived in Los Angeles.
“I was telling him everything about Lucy,” Reeves said. “He was so charming, polite and interesting. I immediately felt something in him, that he was a dreamer and a worker. He had this special thing, and I wanted him to know Lucy.
Three hours later, Bolke returned to the busy Pottery Barn and was greeted by scornful stares from the other employees.
He soon left Pottery Barn and went to work for Neiman Marcus as Creative Director of Store Planning.
Reeves, his first client in Texas, is still a client and a friend. Wrubel – who is dubbed Dallas’ favorite DJ and hosts gigs such as Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton’s wedding last summer and former President Barack Obama’s inauguration – has become his best friend.
“Brian has such a loyal following and is part of Dallas. People go to him for his style influence,” Reeves said. “He reached out to Dallas, and he got it.”
The Conservatory is in fact his third concept.
Bolke started the Avant Garden florist in Highland Park Village in 1995 and sold it in 1999 to launch Forty Five Ten. He bought Avant Garden in 2001 and sold it to Todd Fiscus of Todd Events in 2008.
He and co-founders Shelly Musselman and Bill Mackin opened the Forty Five Ten store in 2000 in a former Navy surplus store. The name comes from the address, which was 4510 McKinney Avenue, just south of Knox Street. It was a hit with a core of Dallas luxury shoppers for over 15 years.
Bolke sold Forty Five Ten in 2014 to Dallas-based Headington Companies and remained chairman. The brand expanded to five stores, including a new building on Main Street in Dallas in 2016.
Bolke left Forty Five Ten in 2017, and the brand has since folded into the a store in downtown Dallas. The original Forty Five Ten on McKinney is now CB2.
Bolke was quietly building his next concept, The Conservatory, and was recruited to open in New York’s Hudson Yards in 2019. There is a second small store in Highland Park Village and a storefront in Oak Lawn with warehouse space for online production. The Conservatory has become First multi-brand store of Amazon Luxury Stores, bringing niche apothecary brands that weren’t available on the e-commerce site.
Bolke now has 50 employees, some of whom he has worked with since the 1990s.
The pandemic was a risky time to grow a business, but Bolke found opportunity in the uncertainty.
He tried his luck opening the store in Highland Park Village, knowing that merchandise orders were being canceled due to panic, forced restructurings and bankruptcies. He knew he could get fantastic products from suppliers who needed a market.
While it’s about people, it’s about lasting relationships, it’s also about figuring out what customers need. When the pandemic unfolded, he said he had looked around for about six months and knew he had to stock up on “sweaters, easy clothes versus party dresses that no one needed”.
He has an extensive list of vendors he works with, and now he’s stocking his store for an evolving post-pandemic, adding, “Let’s imagine we know what the lifestyle will be like.”
People will repurchase shoes because they go out more. He added some evening dresses, but only classics that can be worn for years as well as evening wear that can be dressed up or down with jeans.
The new store features over 200 brands and a unique mix it promises with The Row, Gabriela Hearst, Rosetta Getty, Brandon Maxwell and Altuzarra. New Dallas exclusives include Alaïa, Courrèges, LaQuan Smith and Mugler. He brought Ashlyn, Duncan and Monot into the mix. The store is also the only US retailer to carry British leather goods maker Tanner Krolle and Italian womenswear brand Câllas Milano.
“Shopping isn’t about waiting for someone to drop by, it’s about driving them to your store,” Summers said. “As a customer, when you find a place on the second or third floor of a building, you feel like you’ve discovered something special. Its design aesthetic is over the top.
The store has 32 floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides with views of the mall to the west and the treetops of some of the city’s most expensive homes to the south. The view east of Dallas Country Club’s Preston Road is reserved for Teak Tearoom, which will open in late February for lunch Tuesday through Saturday with cocktails and menu classics like tuna melt and chicken tortilla soup.
Both will be reminiscent of the popular T Room from the original Forty Five Ten on McKinney, which has become a gathering place.
Bolke says he has a chopped salad on the menu that he thinks will become a new Dallas favorite. He called it the “Brain Bowl”.
The day before the snowstorm hit Dallas last week, Bolke hosted a private event at the Conservatory on Two. He wanted long-time customers to see him first.
“It was great – like going back to basics,” Bolke said. “I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t love him.”
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