Small business spotlight: California style makes its debut in Prague

A new boutique brings an infusion of West Coast sunshine -- and laid-back looks -- to Vinohrady

Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas

Written by Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas
Published on 21.10.2020 16:24 (updated on 22.10.2020)

Ed. note: While widespread closures were declared in the Czech Republic at press time, many of the businesses featured in our profiles are still counting on your patronage. Support stores like this one by shopping online and visiting as soon as measures allow.

Last weekend LA-stylist Vanessa Durazo and her partner Lubo, opened Pacer, a boutique stocked with the kind of understated jewelery and easy-going casuals that Durazo says "represent the modern bohemian girl you can find at a beach in Orange County or checking out her favorite indie band in Silver Lake."

We recently chatted with Durazo, who has a decade of managing retail shops under her (sutainably sourced) belt, about Pacer's strategy for bringing their bohemian looks to a Bohemian clientele in the current stay-at-home climate.

Tell us the story of how you came to Prague.

Vanessa Pacer
Vanessa Durazo / photo by Alexandra Siebenthal

I came to Prague 5 years ago. I did a TEFL program at The Language House Prague to learn to teach English. I basically wanted to take a break from my current job (I was a store manager for Free People) and spend time traveling around Europe. I had planned to only stay about 6 months to a year, but I fell in love with Prague and the European lifestyle and just couldn’t go back.

Describe your business and what you do.

My passion has always been fashion and styling. It has always been my dream to own my own clothing boutique where I could curate the brands I offered based on a unique “modern hippie” style that also focused on trying to be as sustainable as possible. Pacer is a space for women to come and discover new brands while also learning how to style the new pieces they are going home with.

I always loved the feeling of making someone happy in the new addition to their wardrobe and the relationships I was able to create with my customers and I look forward to establishing the same California, laidback and friendly atmosphere here.

What were the challenges of getting started?

pacer boutique
Pacer boutique / photo by Alexandra Siebenthal

I think the hardest part of getting started is actually getting started. Where to begin? You have an idea, a concept, and then you have to shape it and make it feel unique but still relatable to your market. The hardest part for me has just been navigating all of the administrative tasks in a foreign language. That’s why I’m so lucky to have my partner (and soon-to-be husband) Lubo, who is Slovak and can speak the language and help with all the road bumps my language barrier causes.

How has your business been challenged by COVID?

COVID delayed our opening. We had ordered all this merchandise in November of last year and were looking forward to opening sometime in March. That was impossible with the lockdown, but the quarantine actually gave us the time to be home and spend as much of our free time as possible looking for a space and putting together all the odds and ends needed to launch.

Who is your customer base?

Our customer is a woman who loves fashion and is always looking for the next special piece to add to her wardrobe. She shops sustainably as much as she can and is interested in discovering new brands that are ethically made and fashion forward. She’s adventurous and cool and loves the Prague coffee scene but still looks forward to her weekends out in the forest hiking. 

What makes your service unique?

That we focus on styling. You won’t come into our shop and be met with inattentive shop assistants or passive customer service. From the moment you enter Pacer you will be the main focus and we hope we will be able to make a connection with each shopper and really feel like the neighborhood shop. We’ll have events and promote other small, women-owned businesses and try to part of the community. 

There are tons of expats in Prague, but at the end of the day this is still the Czech Republic and the majority of the people here are Czech, so don’t alienate the native population; strive to be part of the community. 

What makes Prague a place where small business can thrive?

Firstly, that it’s much easier to start a business here than it is in the US. In California opening my own boutique really felt like a project I would need to prepare financially for, for the rest of my life. Here, a lot less capital is required, which gives people more opportunity to take risk. 

What advice would you give people who want to set up shop in Prague?

I would tell them to just do it! Find someone that can help you with the language barrier, whether it’s a translator or a friend because that will propel you tremendously onto the right path. Do a lot of target-market research and make sure you are thinking about the country you live in and the people you will be selling to or providing your service to. Yes, there are tons of expats in Prague, but at the end of the day this is still the Czech Republic and the majority of the people here are Czech, so don’t alienate the native population and strive to be part of the community. 

Why do we need your service?

I think there’s a lot of opportunity for diversity in style in Prague. But it’s easy to tell where people are shopping because there are not a lot of options. I think Pacer will help people find their style (or define it) and give women the chance to be confident in good quality brands that will last them for the foreseeable future. I hope Pacer opens the flood gates for similar boutiques that focus on style and search for unique and sustainable brands. 

How important is community to your success and who has helped you along the way?

Pacer boutique
Pacer's casual looks / photo by Alexandra Siebenthal

Community is SO important! I spent a lot of time looking for a space in the exact neighborhood that I wanted , for example. I knew Vinohrady was the right place for Pacer and I knew the exact spot I wanted to be at. I love the side streets of Korunni and the area between Namesti Miru and JZP. I love all the cafes, vintage shops and restaurants and the sense of community of the people who have lived in the neighborhood for years.

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I reached out to a lot of businesses and friends for advice and to make sure I was adding something new to the neighborhood while understanding what has already been established in my market. I got great advice from the owner of Kas Mi Das. She was so sweet and met me for coffee two years ago and answered all of my questions about having a small shop in Prague. I also reached out to Les Goodies in Vinohrady who helped me find a supplier for the compostable bags we use for shipping.

How does the future look for growth both personally and financially?

I keep thinking of what my dad told me “Don’t expect to make any money in the beginning and just don’t give up.” My dad owned his own furniture manufacture in Los Angeles for 37 years and sold his furniture throughout the US and in parts of Europe. It’s actually where the name Pacer comes from (it was the name of his company). So, I have had low expectations for financial growth, but have been unexpectedly surprised. I think given the current pandemic, it’s smart to expect that Czechs are being conservative with unnecessary expenses , but on the other hand, people are still shopping.

I think that the future is so uncertain, it’s hard to predict what even the end of this week will hold. But if not now, then when? Sometimes you just have to take chances on something you’re passionate about and hope that people see that and not only love your product but want to support something they can get behind. I think Pacer will be successful because of that. 

Pacer

U Tržnice 1180/6

Prague 2, Vinohrady