Photos by Danny Owens
UXC is love. A love of treasure hunting for one-of-a-kind finds. A love of history and fashion’s cyclical dance through time. A love of culture, creativity and community. A love of family and heirlooms yielding stories ages old. It’s all a love story at UrbanXchange – a Tacoma-based small business and its hip collection of retro clothing and vintage home decor to inspire and be admired by the stylish City of Destiny.
Brooke was merely 18, when her mom, Julie Bennett, pursued a business model worth a legacy and based on their shared love of shopping. The retail space sat along the main street of Tacoma’s brand new University of Washington (UWT) campus. Their partnership with UrbanXchange was crucial to the groundwork needed to change the perception around what used to be a pretty crumby downtown stretch. Today that same block has refined Pacific Avenue into the hub of small retail and restaurants offering the walkability and street side aesthetic that it boasts of today. The campus community saw a perfect fit proposed by UXC. So they handed over the keys and opened the double doors, a fixture recently updated with a soft, salmon colored paint Brooke picked out herself.
At first offer, the business baton felt unmanageably heavy on Brooke’s shoulder. She had shadowed as her mother struggled with the demands of a new, local business. In those early years, Brooke couldn’t imagine taking on the task alone. It wasn’t until a partnership was suggested by her prince charming, long-time boyfriend and now husband Nick Casanova. Suddenly an overwhelming inheritance became a shared prodigy of Tacoma’s new favorite power couple. It was September of 2013 and they were both young and fairly unaware of all the trials that lay ahead, but as a team they were steadfast and energized with fresh ideas, fueling their entrepreneurial disposition and a desire to dress their city.
Running a business while navigating your early twenties is a cumbersome undertaking, especially when layered with newlywed woes. It’s that first year of marriage everyone says is the hardest. It was also true for the first phase of UrbanXchange. Year one was a busy one, as the new owners jumped in with a remodel to the building space as well as the business model, giving UXC a fresh look that would better reflect the direction Nick and Brooke were headed in. In year two they honed in after an exhausting tax season and used the lessons to somewhat master the financial side of things. Now in year three they’re defining the brand and branching out into various endeavors both in the store and beyond. The shop is growing with them, from the ever-evolving displays and all-around inventory to the seasoned energy that pulls you in off the street with a catchy tune, a familiar voice or an attractive window display. It’s a give and take relationship, like any, and at times the pair would swear they live, eat and breath these walls. Their dog Rio sits beside the front register as evidence. That’s also part of the beauty of small business, like a fine knit of integrity, commitment and persistence. From the beginning and still to this day Seattle calls to these trendy retail owners with offers and pleas to move their strategy north. But the couple’s history in Tacoma keeps them down to earth and rooted in our South Sound soil.
So they continue and collect for a room full of character with the hope that someone’s perfect fit might be found here in this shabby-chic consignment spot across from the Washington State History Museum. You’ll know it by a short row of folding theatre chairs. The contrast of rustic wood paneling and a white-washed brick wall. An old piano that sometimes gets played. A magical Persian rug. Brooke’s eye for color and design flow in through the entrance and fill the grand space of lofty beams and artsy collectables thoughtfully shelved. Potted plants infuse a sense of eco-friendly sustainability and tie in the popular “green” theme that this resell sanctuary knows best. It just feels like home. Brooke’s presence radiates from the fixtures in her shop to bold vintage dresses and statement accessories she models on the average day. You’ll know her style and her sweet smile in an instant. Nick is dapper in his own accord, whether sporting a pair of Birkenstocks with rolled up khakis or a show-stopping, tropically printed T, his signature barber cut and dark, sleek beard. Even between the sweetest of soul mates, small clashes arise from time to time. Most days the Casanovas love their side-by-side work romance, some days not so much. But there is no doubt you can feel the buzz of chemistry here and know from the cohesiveness of the shop that these two were made for each other.
Earlier this year on Instragram, Nick dedicated a birthday post to his wife: “I can honestly say she is my best friend! I have other best friends, but I always prefer to hang out on the couch with her on a Saturday night. She brings a joy to my life that no one can duplicate. She works so incredibly hard here at UXC but works even harder when it comes to caring for her friends. I will brag about her until my teeth fall out, and then I’ll resort to sign language.”
In the shop, Brooke gracefully steps toward her man with a tender head tilt and adjusts the rolled-up bandana around Nick’s neck. He simultaneously sings her praises, commending how Brooke’s eye for design has made the shop the cozy urban sanctuary that it is. She returns a similar sentiment that her husband’s keen sense for business has kept them afloat when times were tough. He brings her visions to life. With peace of mind, Brooke focuses on the overall appeal of their brand while Nick manages the bookkeeping side of the arrangement. It’s a dynamic duo and loving partnership that has kept business alive and earned so many customers, both locals and travelers alike, who admire and support the family affair at this new age mom and pop shop.
“Selling second-hand provides people with a more affordable and unique shopping experience,” Brooke says. “We carefully hand select every item that goes onto our racks with specific customers in mind. It also gives us freedom to sell things that you might not be able to find anywhere in town, whether it’s a vintage item or a high end designer piece. I think the biggest perk is that people bring items to us and we get to have this community based business transaction with them. We can’t always offer exactly what something is worth but we do our best to provide a fair price to the person selling to us as well as the person shopping with us. Also, our customer may not be aware of it but whether they shop with us or sell with us, they are helping reduce their carbon footprint! It’s a win-win!”
When you are creative cultivators like these two, there’s always something in the works. Whether it’s hosting and partaking in local events, a new coat of paint and fresh merchandise on the floor, or the recent release of their 1884 hat honoring the joining of the districts under the big umbrella of “Tacoma”! There’s no telling what they’ll dream up next, but one thing is certain, you’ll want to be a part of the exchange.
So if you’re ever cleaning out your closet and think your stash deserves a second chance; if you’re ever in the market for a smoking deal on an outfit with a story to tell; if you ever need some inspiration and a style guide for a personal (or home) makeover; if you believe in the value of small business and community; OR if you simply like to shop to catchy musical tracks, stop in to UrbanXchange and say hi to Nick and Brooke Casanova, a true Tacoma treasure.
~ TIPS of the TRADE ~
Quick style fix
Right now Nick and Brooke are both really into topping an outfit off with a classic bandana. “There’s something about it that just makes an outfit complete!,” Brooke says. “It’s also something that pretty much anyone can wear whether it’s with T-shirt & jeans or a summer frock.”
What do you predict will be the next comeback in the fashion world?
“We’ve been seeing a lot of the 90s minimalism come back into style which is fun, but I think we’re going to see more of a mix of the 70s, 80s, & 90s combined which I’m excited about!” -Brooke
Musical inspiration for the shopaholic:
(Current tracks being played in-store)
Banshee by The Cave Singers All Yours by Widowspeak (who recently relocated to Tacoma!)
Overgrown by James Blake
Settle by Disclosure (to liven things up)
Favorite Tacoma-bred bands?
The Nightgowns & Trevor Dickson
Anna Moore of Lobsana
How do the Casanovas’ like to Experience Tacoma?
Visiting their friendly neighborhood boutiques like Satori and Bleach, sipping a cold drink at Hanks, playing darts at Magoo’s and staying jazzed with coffee from Bluebeard or Lift Bridge. They can also be spotted walking their dog, Rio, at Titlow Beach or grabbing a bite on 6th Avenue at favorites like Marrow and The Table.