Hysteria owner reflects on five years in business, what comes next

Hysteria owner reflects on five years in business, what comes next
Suzanne Runyon stands inside her Old Town boutique (Photo Credit: Alexa Epitropoulos)

By Alexa Epitropoulos | aepitropoulos@alextimes.com

Suzanne Runyon’s time at Old Town boutique Hysteria has come full circle since she purchased it almost five years ago.

Runyon, a longtime Alexandria resident, bought Hysteria at 123 S. Fairfax St.
in early 2013 from original owner Ethan Drath, who opened the store in 1999 as an accessory boutique.

“They were getting down to the wire where they were probably going to end up closing it,” Runyon said.

Runyon had been working at the boutique for a year and a half and knew she didn’t want to see it close.

She came up with a business plan and approached her sister, Nina Doherty, with the possibility of going into the venture together.

The sisters made the sale final in March 2013. Since then, Runyon has been
managing the day-to-day of the boutique, while Doherty has worked behind the
scenes on the accounting and marketing. Their first few years as owners were difficult, Runyon said.

“It was upside down, if you will. It was struggling …” Runyon said. “We bought with the intentions that we were going to turn it around and make it a success and it was a struggle. It took a good three years.”

Runyon said, with some guidance from a business consultant, they managed to get the business back on track. They began to focus on stocking exclusive brands, including difficult-to-find names like Ecru, to make the boutique a destination.

Soon, however, Runyon is moving up the east coast to Maine, and Doherty, who has a full-time tech job, will be unable to continue operating the boutique on her own. The two are looking to sell the business and the brand, as well as everything that comes with it — including tens of thousands in merchandise and its point of sale system.

“It’s a great opportunity, it’s very turnkey and I’m going to be here until at least the summer, so I would be around to help whoever steps in to make sure they don’t make mistakes, those hard lessons I learned,” Runyon said.

They would like to see the sale happen sooner rather than later, though, both said. That’s mostly due to the buying schedule for retailers, who order clothing for the season six months in advance. In addition, Doherty said, if too much time passes, the store might lose its exclusive rights to certain brands.

“An important message we’d like to get across is time is of the essence,” Doherty said.

Doherty and Runyon declined to state what they’re selling the business for, but said they would work with a potential owner to structure a flexible acquisition plan.

“It’s a unique business opportunity where you’ll get the mentorship, the technology and tools, the understanding you need and a great set of lines that have been curated over five years under our control,” Doherty said. “It’s a known brand to this town that has existed for almost 20 years.”

When Doherty and Runyon look back on their nearly five years of running Hysteria, they remember the events they’ve hosted, the day-to-day experience of interacting with clientele and frequent buying trips to New York. The sisters say they were able to fulfill a dream of bringing a boutique to Old Town that had many of the same attributes as one of their favorite boutiques when they were growing up.

“When we would go to our family’s summer home, we always visited that boutique and walked out with something – a candle, a bracelet or a scarf,” Doherty said. “It was part of our experience and we wanted to create a place where you could have that same experience in Old Town.”

Runyon, who is still serving as president of the Old Town Boutique District, has a positive outlook on where retail in Old Town will go from here.

“I’m not worried about it. I’m sad to go,” Runyon said. “I’m hoping I’ll have that experience in the next town.”