By Fraser Sherman
UPDATE on Sept 9, 2023:
Managing Editor Michelle Cassell
When Kris Chellani reopens Franklin Street’s Classic Carolina store this Saturday, he’ll be following in his father Dhruva Chellani’s footsteps.
“My dad came to this country with $20 in his pocket,” Chellani told The Local Reporter. His father landed in New York and wound up working in the city’s fashion industry, wholesaling women’s apparel. Years later Dhruva and his wife Nina moved to Chapel Hill and opened Classic Fashions on Franklin Street. Primarily selling women’s dresses and scarves, the store did well until the financial crunch of 2008-9.
“I think that’s when my dad got the idea to start selling UNC items,” Chellani said. “Dad had an eye for trends in fashion; he noticed this kind of underserved market. We started catering to it.”
Classic Carolina, as the store came to be known, found its niche selling UNC shirts, jackets, dresses and accessories, as well as novelty shirts (Choke! The Official Drink of Duke Basketball). The store closed temporarily in March of this year; a press release says the grand reopening will include a ribbon-cutting, gift certificates for the first 25 shoppers, and a wheel of fortune people on the street outside can spin for prizes.
Chellani said the reopening isn’t just a marketing tactic: he and his father gave the store a complete makeover during the time it was closed. When his father brought up retirement some months back, Chellani decided it would be a shame not to keep Classic Carolina open. However, he also saw that the store would need an upgrade to stay successful.
“My dad did everything by himself, never hired any employees,” Chellani said. “No marketing, no website, no systems really in place.” The new store has “a new point of sale system, a new website, we’ve tagged our merchandise, bar-coded everything. We’ve made relationships with new suppliers and we’re working with students, working with professors.”
The store’s physical layout has changed too: new floors, new awnings, new fixtures, new paint. Chellani said the old store was busy, cluttered and hard to navigate, which also made it hard for shoppers to see what was in stock. The reboot has fixed that: “We’re adding shelving to store more things, adding more mannequins, creating more displays, making it more open.” Working alongside his father on the changes has been one of the high points of the process, he added.
Chellani’s LinkedIn profile describes him as a consultant for startups and real-estate firms, a social media influencer with 100,000 followers, and as a businessman who built a six-figure content business in six months. Despite working in New York for a couple of years, Chellani says he’s a Tar Heel through and through: he was born in a UNC hospital, went to undergraduate business school at UNC and volunteers at the business school giving students real-world advice. Plus, of course, “being on Franklin Street we grew to become Tar Heel fans.”
Classic Carolina isn’t an official UNC vendor but Chellani says he’s talking with the school to change that. In the meantime, he said, they’ll compete with other stores selling UNC merch by “providing the best customer service possible. When customers come into our store there’s not going to be someone sitting behind the counter and not talking to them.” Successful retail, he said, “is not about the store itself; it’s more about the experience you create for the customers.” If, say, a customer wants a UNC onesie for a baby, the salesclerk will ask questions to help them pick the right item: How old is the baby? What colors look good on them? Does the parent prefer UNC football or basketball?
Chellani says if he learns customers are asking for items that aren’t on the shelf, he’ll take note. “If they say they want to see more tube tops, I’ll be online the same day seeing which suppliers have tube tops.”
Spotting new trends and bringing in the right amount of merchandise to meet customer demands is a big challenge in retail fashion, Chellani said. Classic Carolina has finite space to stock clothes and if he orders new items that don’t sell, that eats into space for other, more desirable goods. He expressed confidence in his dad’s fashion-industry experience and his own knowledge of what younger shoppers want. This will enable them to take “the first step into catering to what’s not there.”
Classic Carolina reopens at 8 a.m., Saturday morning, September 9th.
Fraser Sherman has worked for newspapers, including the Destin Log, the Pensacola News-Journal and the Raleigh Public Record. Born in England, he’d still live in Florida if he hadn’t met the perfect woman and moved to Durham to marry her. He’s the author of several film reference books and has published one novel and several short story collections.