Cindy Caldwell and Mickie Donohue        Photo by Wendi Kromash

Their customers are like family, according to Mickie Donohue, 78, and Cindy Caldwell, 68, business partners at Evanston’s oldest consignment shop, The Crowded Closet, located at 808 Dempster St. These two stylish women have helped outfit generations of women and built a devoted following of long-time customers, many of whom continue to shop with them even after moving out of state.

Attention to detail and quality make The Crowded Closet a haven for bargain seekers who want to look good. The merchandise changes frequently with new items refreshing the racks daily at the beginning of every spring and fall season. Avid shoppers know to stop in regularly to find the best deals. It takes patience to comb through racks and racks of clothing looking for a special outfit or the perfect little black dress, but that persistence and perseverance often delivers amazing deals. Experienced shoppers know when to pounce when they see something they love.

The Crowded Closet is distinctive for the strict standards it demands of the clothes it accepts for consignment. Items must be current – nothing vintage – and in spotless condition, on hangers and freshly laundered or dry cleaned. Ms. Donohue and Ms. Caldwell proudly describe themselves as “sticklers” and examine each clothing item carefully for tears, moth holes and stains. Designer clothes are especially welcome, but only if in top condition. The store accepts shoes, jewelry, handbags and scarves as well as suits, separates, dresses, formal wear and coats. The store carries sizes 0 to 3X and even offers layaway.

The business of selling gently used clothing is competitive. At The Crowded Closet, prospective consignors must have at least 10-15 items a season to be accepted. Once clothes are placed on the sales racks, they are held for about two months – longer for designer pieces – with periodic markdowns. Checks are issued every three months to consignors. After about two months, consignors have the option of picking up unsold merchandise or donating it to a charity that stops by the store a few times a year. Most clients choose to donate.

Ms. Donohue and Ms. Caldwell met in 1980 and have been business partners for 10 years. Ms. Donohue is one of the store’s original volunteers at what began as a local charity’s attempt to organize and sell some donated clothes. Within a few years it had grown into a full-time business with Ms. Donohue at the helm. The store has changed over the years: there have been other locations within Evanston, a foray into men’s clothing and a separate store for ladies casual wear. This year, brought a new website, thecrowdedcloset.net amidst a year of anniversary celebrations. Yet as frequently as fashions change, the store’s reputation for customer service and bargains remain constant.