Joann Grasser is not your typical retailer. She’s an artist helping other artists.
When she opened JJ’s Boutique and Studios in Downtown Kenosha last August she says it was as much to sell things she liked as it was to offer studio space for those in the in the performing and visual arts.
Today the enterprise 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 enterprise comprised of consignment vintage clothing and locally crafted jewelry and accessories, dance classes and rental space for photographers and videographers.
“I’m also inviting community members to come rent the space for crafting parties,” said Grasser in a recent interview at the store/studio.
Grasser decided to put together a space and studio in part due to the impact of the pandemic on artists and the Kenosha community overall.
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“People are so done with (creating art) from their homes,” she said. “This place is also for artists who lost their spaces.”
She named it “JJ’s Boutique and Studios” for her nickname which is Jo Jo.
Grasser’s mission to assist others is reflected in her retail inventory. “Ninety percent of the items in this store are consignment from friends, models or other business owners,” she said.
It is also a place to recycle quality vintage clothing on consignment. “So maybe you’ve got your mom’s old clothes and you don’t want to just donate them. I can’t guarantee they will sell, but (sellers) will get things out of their closets.”
To accommodate the various business entities, Grasser has 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 is from the 1970s and earlier,” she says. “I love pin-up culture and hippie clothes of the ‘flower power’ period.”
Because it was most recently used as a yoga studio, the middle of the space has several floor-to-ceiling mirrors which make it a natural for dance classes.
Mane’s Dance Academy offers a weekly slate of Hip Hop and African dance for children with instructor Shar’mane Wilson-Martin. In February Wilson-Martin is offering Valentine’s Day dance workshops such as “learning to dance in heels.”
Also occupying the space is an enormous wooden trestle with a hammock used for classes in aerial yoga. The instructor, Mindi Matera, also offers workshops in “the art of chair dancing.”
The studio’s instructors are not employees, but independent contractors, notes Grasser.
The final section of the storefront is in the process of being set up as a studio for rental by photographers and videographers.
The storefront studio is a first for Grasser, but the native Kenoshan has plenty of creative personal experience.
The 44-year-old’s resume includes experience in theater, pole dancing and burlesque. This weekend she performed in the K-Town 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 errand runner for some of its vendors. Working there she honed a fascination for period fashion and she enjoys participating in Victorian-themed parties with her Ren Faire peers.
She has also been a “hobby model” participating in fashion runway shows hosted by Southeast Wisconsin Goodwill Industries.
As a model and a retailer of vintage clothing, Grasser feels she is “helping to reestablish clothing standards.”
“I enjoy period clothing because (society) has gotten into an ease of dressing and we tend to be lazy about it. Things really slid after leisure suits and the 1980s.”
During 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. “This is not just me. I want to help build a community of artists,” she said.