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America's Coolest Stores

America’s Coolest Stores 2012: Small Cool 3 Zoltan David Collection

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Jewelry designer, retailer, Hungarian knight … Cool Store savant? It’s just another accomplishment among many for Zoltan David, whose two retail stores in the Austin, TX area — each constructed within the last four years — have both finished in the top 5 of INSTORE’s America’s Coolest Stores competition, with his original location having won first place in the Small Cool division in 2009. But whereas the first location is an upscale, couture shopping experience, David’s newest store is more casual. “This is a party atmosphere,” says Zoltan’s wife and co-owner Patti David. “There are a lot of happy people running around.”

That’s because the new store sits just steps away from perhaps the most famous sunset-viewing location in Texas: The Oasis restaurant. Located on a cliff that rises 450 feet above Lake Travis, the Oasis offers a gorgeous panorama that draws millions of visitors per year. In 2011, Oasis owner Beau Theriot constructed extensive retail and restaurant facilities surrounding a courtyard outside his restaurant, creating a complex now dubbed simply “Oasis, Texas.” When the Davids heard about the development, they jumped at the chance to add a second location — even though it’s only about a 20-minute drive from their first.

“It’s really a different market,” Patti says. “It’s a destination location, so it’s all visitors rather than locals. Here, we get customers from all over Austin and out-of-town, and they see things in our store that they don’t see anywhere else.” She adds that jewelry connoisseurs often discover the Zoltan David line by chance while visiting the Oasis, then later wind up as regular clients who frequent the flagship gallery, where Zoltan’s shop is located. “The new boutique is not just a retail outlet; it’s an excellent marketing tool to drive business to our other location,” Patti says.

While both locations have many features in common — most notably, a dramatic wood look throughout — the Davids wanted an environment that was more “Austin cool” and less formal than the flagship store. “It’s a little more rock ’n’ roll,” says Zoltan, which seems a perfect fit in a town that bills itself as “The Live Music Capital of the World” and a venue that features bands on as many as three musical stages on a given night. Airy steel and wood showcases create an open feel in a showroom that’s only 800 square feet, matching the wooden façade on the walls and the wood laminate flooring. “It’s beautiful at night,” Patti says. “People can see in and through the showcases, and the lights add to the warmth of the wood.”

Adding to the visual tableau are thin, elegant lighting fixtures and the dominating Texas cedar tree trunk in the center of the floor. Why was the tree added? “To disguise a giant steel support beam,” Zoltan says. “We didn’t want a big steel support in the middle of our showroom, so we put this tree trunk around it to hide it.”

As for product, while the flagship store features only Zoltan David creations, the new gallery includes two outside designer lines: Gellner and Alishan. “Because we’re so busy, we haven’t reached critical mass in Zoltan David inventory here yet,” Zoltan says. “We’re solving our production bottleneck as we speak. But I really like what Gellner does with pearls, and Alishan is a cool line as well, so we may continue to show their collections even after we’ve gotten the Zoltan David inventory where we want it.”

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Although the showcases and product offerings do contribute to the casual atmosphere of the boutique, what really amps up the rock ’n’ roll vibe are the electric guitars on display, as well as the belts and leather handbags. In addition to their effect on the overall feel of the store, the guitars serve to call attention to the patent-pending design for a revolutionary new slide co-created by Zoltan David and prolific guitarist Lance Keltner. Two of the custom designed slides are featured in the showcases.

Between the two retail outlets, the increased demand for inventory, and the new belt line and guitar slides, it’s no wonder Zoltan has not had time to revisit his wholesale jewelry line, which was the entirety of his business for nearly three decades. “There are plans for the wholesale, but right now the stores have to take priority,” he says. And as for plans to try for a third Cool Store? “We keep talking about Vail or Aspen,” laughs Patti.

“As our team grows, so will our little empire,” adds Zoltan. “But I won’t compromise on the work.”

 

QUICK FACTS
 

Location: Austin, TX
URL: zoltandavid.com
Owners: Zoltan and Patti David
Founded: 1980
Opened Featured Location: 2011
Area: 800 square feet
Cost of buildout: $85,000
Locations: 2
Employees: 3
ONLINE PRESENCE
Alexa Traffic Rank: 19,267,675

 

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Wood laminate floors in place of actual wood. “We found that real wood doesn’t hold up well as a floor,” says Patti David. “The wood in our first location is all dimpled by high heels.” The Davids used laminate in their new location.

 
     
   
   
 

“An odd mix of Texas musicians” including Pat Green, Randy Rogers, Blue October, Spoon and ZZ Top.

 
     

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FIVE COOL THINGS

1. BELTS AND HANDBAGSLike his jewelry line, the belts are also designed and created by Zoltan in his studio. “My first job as a designer was in designing leather, and I’ve loved it ever since,” he says. The leather comes from El Paso and the buckles are from Austin, so the belts are “pure Texas,” adds Zoltan. The handbags, while not designed by Zoltan, are made in Austin as well and are popular souvenir purchases in the store.

2. THE WOOD The Zoltan David flagship store is a symphony of wood, and the Oasis location sings a similar tune. The showcases are made from salvaged pecan wood taken from the Shady Grove RV Park in downtown Austin, a local legend.

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3. NEW KNIGHT DREAMS COLLECTION The name of Zoltan’s latest collection is triply inspired: “The jewelry is black as night, it’s made by a knight, and they’re my dreams,” he says. The jewelry is made of a proprietary black metal that is wear-resistant and scratch-resistant to a degree that is unmatched by any other material, claims the designer.

4. OASIS SHOPPING EXPERIENCE Across the courtyard from the boutique are three restaurants, each with a live music venue, as well as several other shops. The destination draws 2 million visitors a year. “There are two weddings here every weekend,” says Patti David. “I often have to turn our music down so it doesn’t clash with the bands’ music outside.”

5. IN-HOUSE VIDEOS A large flat-screen monitor in the store runs high-quality video at all times that complements the shopping experience. One video is a GIA-produced retrospective on Zoltan’s jewelry, while two others were commissioned by the Davids to tell the story of Zoltan as an artist, as well as to describe the design services offered by the stores. Both of these can be viewed on the Zoltan David YouTube channel.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAY

Maeve Gillies: The amount of personality and style in this store draws you in. The quality and uniqueness of the interior materials match the individual style and craftsmanship of the jewelry. The carefully selected additional items (such as hand-tooled handbags and guitars) add texture, depth and even more story to draw you in. It feels like a very special place, full of stories — a treasure trove of exquisite jewels.

Ellen Hertz: The interior of this store is beautiful and the ability to see this from the exterior of the store is great and invites the onlooker to come inside. The layout of the store, the design of the cases and the display of the jewelry all work together to create a different and cool environment that is not often seen. The overall feel of the store is MUCH different from the typical store, and I would definitely be drawn into the space to find out what it’s all about.

Larry Johnson: The store seems to fit right into the local Texas hill country surroundings. It has an organic feel that permeates into the designs of the jewelry. I expect to see Willie Nelson shopping here!

Stephanie Maxey: The natural wood wall covering is the perfect addition to the cases and the openness of the space. The black background in the advertisements highlights the jewelry well. The story of the sword and logo is unique and unforgettable. The exterior is melodic, lush and inviting.

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