Joann Grasser is not your typical retailer. She is an artist who helps other artists.
When she opened JJ’s boutique and studios in downtown Kenosha last August, she said it was as much to sell things she loved as to provide studio space for those in the arts. stage and visual arts.
Today, the company will hold an open house to introduce itself to the community.
Located at 5721 Sixth Ave., JJ’s Boutique and Studios is a multi-faceted business comprised of consignment vintage clothing and locally made jewelry and accessories, dance lessons, and rental space for photographers and videographers.
“I also invite members of the community to come and rent the space for craft parties,” Grasser said in a recent store/studio interview.
Grasser decided to create a space and studio in part due to the impact of the pandemic on artists and the Kenosha community as a whole.
“People are so done (creating art) from home,” she said. “This place is also for artists who have lost their spaces.”
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She named it “JJ’s Boutique and Studios” for her nickname which is Jo Jo.
Grasser’s mission to help others is reflected in its retail inventory. “Ninety percent of the items in this store are from friends, models, or other business owners,” she said.
It is also a place to recycle quality vintage clothing on consignment. “So maybe you have your mother’s old clothes and you just don’t want to give them away. I can’t guarantee they will sell, but (the sellers) will pull things out of their cupboards.
To accommodate the various business entities, Grasser converted the long, narrow storefront into specific areas for retail, fitness, and creative arts.
The area of the space closest to the street is filled with vintage dresses, accessories, and a few menswear items.
“My vintage period goes back to the 1970s and before,” she says. “I love pin-up culture and flower power period hippie clothing.”
Because it was recently used as a yoga studio, the middle of the space has several floor-to-ceiling mirrors that make it a natural place for dance classes.
Mane’s Dance Academy offers weekly hip-hop and African dance programming for children with instructor Shar’mane Wilson-Martin. In February, Wilson-Martin offers Valentine’s Day dance workshops such as “learning to dance in heels.”
Also occupying the space is a huge wooden trestle with a hammock used for aerial yoga classes. The instructor, Mindi Matera, also offers workshops on “the art of chair dancing”.
Studio instructors are not employees, but independent contractors, Grasser notes.
The last part of the storefront is being converted into a rental studio for photographers and videographers.
The showcase studio is a first for Grasser, but the Kenoshan native has plenty of creative personal experience.
The 44-year-old’s resume includes experience in acting, pole dancing and burlesque. This weekend, she starred in K-Town’s burlesque production, “Seventh Heaven,” which ran Friday and Saturday at the Rhode Center for the Arts.
Since 2009, Grasser has worked at the Bristol Renaissance Faire as a courier for some of its suppliers. While working there, she developed a fascination with period fashion and enjoys attending Victorian-themed parties with her Ren Faire peers.
She has also been a “hobby model” participating in fashion shows hosted by Southeast Wisconsin Goodwill Industries.
As a model and retailer of vintage clothing, Grasser believes she is “helping to restore sartorial standards.”
“I like period clothing because (society) has embraced an easy way to dress and we tend to be lazy about it. Things really slipped past leisure suits and the 1980s.”
At Sunday’s open house, Grasser hopes to introduce Kenosha to the possibilities of JJ’s boutique and studios. According to the studio’s Facebook page, the event is also a networking event for area artists and event coordinators. “It’s not just me. I want to help build a community of artists,” she said.