The Dance Bag of Modesto, CA, was founded with the modest goal of saving local dance students the 90-mile trek into San Francisco for supplies. In the two decades since, it has evolved from a bare-bones operation into a pointe shoe fitting destination for ballet dancers throughout the region. Owner Holly Bertucci’s background in sports medicine and athletic training helps her give dancers a one-of-a-kind, comprehensive fitting experience. Read on for a peek inside the store.
Growing a Family Business
The Dance Bag has been serving dancers in and around Modesto, CA, since 1994. Holly Bertucci, the 36-year-old daughter of the original owners, has run the shop since her college graduation in 2004. She officially purchased the business from her parents last July.
“We originally opened the business because I was dancing,” says Bertucci, “and we were driving to San Francisco to buy pointe shoes at a children’s boutique that only carried one brand and two styles.” Her parents realized the local dance community was growing, and when that store closed, her mother, Debbie, decided to contact Capezio about ordering and opened the store “on the tiniest budget ever.”
Debbie Bertucci runs a local dance studio and, for many years, also ran a regional pre-professional ballet company. Debbie and her husband Jim, a teacher, juggled the store along with their other professional responsibilities, so the shop didn’t reach its full potential until Holly took the reins.
Bertucci has expanded the store’s product assortment, increasing its shoe selection and adding more fashion apparel to the mix. She’s also added services that benefit local studio partners and help drive business. For example, each year she sets up a pop-up shop at a regional studio during registration so its students can pick up their dress-code basics as they sign up for classes. This saves the studio owner from having to coordinate group orders and allows Bertucci to connect with potential customers at the start of each dance season. This year, she also moved the store to a new location.
New Digs, Great Neighbors
Although the new 2,200-square-foot space is only four feet wider than the old location, and a mile away, Bertucci says the move was worthwhile because the store has a better layout, and it’s in an upscale shopping center with better neighbors. The old space was very close to a gas station, a thrift shop and a couple of 99-cent stores; the new location is in a popular shopping center called McHenry Village, with Debbie Bertucci’s dance studio just around the corner. And it’s walking distance from a trampoline gym, a high-end grocery store, several trendy restaurants and an upscale salon.
Room for Shoe Fitting
The new store’s large shoe-fitting area is both eye-catching and functional. At 24 feet wide and 5 feet deep, the space has enough room for several employees to comfortably perform fittings. The studio-quality vinyl sprung floor allows customers to get an accurate idea of how their shoes will feel in class.
Fitting Expertise with a Difference
Bertucci’s athletic training and sports medicine background give her a unique perspective that sets her store apart from competitors. She holds a BS in kinesiology with an emphasis in sports medicine from California State University, Fresno, and she worked as an athletic trainer with a mentor throughout college. She is also a member of the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science. Over time, she has developed a reputation among local dancers for the in-depth attention and injury-prevention tips she gives during shoe fittings.
“I teach my fitters to look at the overall body alignment,” Bertucci says. She notes everything from how a dancer’s shoulders and rib cage align with her hip bones to how the femur is placed in the hip joint and the impact it has on the dancer’s external rotation on pointe. She examines a dancer’s knee placement during a plié in parallel and in relevé. She checks the pronation and supination of the ankle and midfoot, along with the length and width of the dancer’s metatarsal, and the overall shape of the foot and toes.
“Working in athletic training, you learn that sometimes a treatment doesn’t work, and you have to change it up,” Bertucci says. The same is true of pointe shoe fitting. “You never know what you’re going to see, and, in a way, athletic training has prepared me for that. There are times I wouldn’t try a certain shoe for a dancer because of its shape or shank, and then as a last resort we try it and it’s perfect. Everything is a game-time decision.”
And Those Windows
The new location’s expansive windows allow Bertucci to keep the store’s tradition of showstopping window displays alive. DRN has covered The Dance Bag’s elaborate annual Nutcracker-themed holiday display in the past, but Bertucci makes a point of creating eye-catching window installations all year long. Her latest display, shown here, features mannequin bodices dressed in elaborate tutus constructed from dance magazine covers. The tutus pop against a background of sheer, glittery hot-pink tulle, and a group of the store’s black tote bags, filled with hot-pink tissue paper, add additional pops of color and ground the entire display.
JUST THE FACTS
The Dance Bag
1700 McHenry Ave
Modesto, CA 95350
STORE HOURS: Monday–Friday, 10 am–6 pm; Saturday, 10 am–4 pm; closed Sunday
EMPLOYEES: 1 full-time (owner), 4 part-time, 3 seasonal alternates (former employees willing to come in as needed)
TYPICAL CUSTOMER VISITS PER DAY: 35–40 BUSIEST TIME OF DAY: weekdays, 3:30–5:30 pm
BUSIEST TIMES OF YEAR: end of July through September (back-to-school), November through January (driven by pointe shoe sales), May and June (recitals and intensives)
STUDIO PARTNERS: caters to students from 30 studios in the region; Bertucci has particularly close relationships with 10 to 15 nearby studios.
AVERAGE PURCHASE: $60
BEST-SELLING BRANDS: AinslieWear, Bloch, Mirella, Capezio, Gaynor Minden, Motionwear, Russian Pointe, Só Dança, Sugar and Bruno
BIGGEST COMPETITION: studios that sell merchandise and large chains that sell sporting goods
Athletic and Modern, Not So Country
Bertucci has worked hard to give the new space a modern aesthetic. “Everything in our old store was pink and white, and it felt very ‘country,’” she says. “I wanted this to feel more like a boutique.”
While choosing the store’s decor, she relied primarily on a gray-and-black color scheme and incorporated pink in the logo. Some of the shop’s noteworthy features include charcoal-gray walls, stained concrete floors and a black counter (right) with white, black and gray granite on top. She also splurged on a large, gray adjustable wall unit with perforated metal in the back that can be easily customized with a wide range of racks, shelving and drawers. Bertucci says she was drawn to the piece because of its “athletic” look.
Several eclectic gift displays top a variety of surfaces throughout the store. These inviting arrangements serve to draw in customers and slow them down as they move through the store. “I like to group items that may sell well,” says Bertucci. “We have a birthday party set from Meri Meri that is adorable at the center of one of my favorite displays. I try to bring in items that go well together, even from different vendors. Sometimes that takes extra work, but it’s worth it in the end.”
Photos courtesy of Holly Bertucci; courtesy of McHenry Village; Bicek Photography; Allan Photography