Dressing up Ripon with love of Community

SOME OF DEAR Prudence co-owner Andy Sorenson’s hand-made doll clothes are on display at Dear Prudence. Andy has an Etsy shop that he sells his products at as well.

by Ariana Hones

Amidst skirts and dresses that could double as art pieces and the softest shirts you will ever touch, Ellen and Andy Sorensen discuss new orders of hand-painted silk scarves, their shared love of kimonos and the hilarity of “going to market” to find new styles for their clients.

Andy and Ellen are second- and third-generation Ripon Main Street business owners and their warmth and laughter fill the high ceilings of Dear Prudence in downtown Ripon.

After traveling around Wisconsin for years working in government positions, Ellen a co-owner of Dear Prudence, decided it was time to come home.

Andy, Ellen’s son and other half of Dear Prudence, had worked at the Flower Basket in Ripon, bartended on Main Street and spent decades in the food industry before experiencing a desire to change careers and “put effort into something that would be beneficial to [his] passions.”

Although originally armed with five different business plans, the enthusiasm of Andy and its collective history of serving the community, the duo eventually settled on a course of action and set its sights on opening a women’s boutique in downtown Ripon.

When shoppers enter Dear Prudence they will mostly likely view the friendly smile of Andy behind the counter and an abundance of classical pieces to add to any wardrobe. However, what is perhaps even more fascinating is the story behind the racks of clothing, bottles of perfume and that smile.

That story is one of commitment to building a stronger local and global community.

Whenever possible, the pieces found at Dear Prudence are American made and constructed of natural fabrics. If they are sourced from abroad, the Sorensen duo works to ensure the clothing is created using fair-trade practices.

Ellen described these choices as a nod to Andy’s father.

“Andy’s dad worked at Speed Queen for decades; he was the union president and Speed Queen is made in America. We know if you buy made-in-America products you are creating and retaining American jobs. These are family sustaining jobs and we want to be part of that sustainability process — having those jobs stay in America so people can feed their families. Same with fair-trade jobs. We want those families and parents to feed their children and have a roof over their heads.”

Andy echoed this sentiment, stating “[we] are cognizant of trying to keep jobs and money with our neighbors.”

Two of the store’s newest lines work to make that statement more literal. It has created a perfume line, which has a base of ethically sourced essential oils and is both made and bottled in Ripon.

This summer, it will unveil a T-shirt line Andy designed. Ellen hopes that in the future she also can design nightgowns.

The work of Andy and Ellen speaks to a growing need for intentionality in business practices and creating the ability for clients to consciously consume products.

However, Dear Prudence also offers support to its clients that runs beyond a purchase of a new top or skirt.

“Mom and pop stores offer a service,” Ellen said. “We know our clients. We can get you the best fit and fit you for clothing.”

Andy described the ability to know a client well enough to say “Oh I have something for you that you will love.”

“It is almost like having a personal shopper,” he added.

This desire to create a tailored experience for each client comes through in the multi-generational approach that Dear Prudence takes on.

“Our clientele has a pretty broad age range,” Andy said. “It makes our day when we can [help] grandmother, mother, daughter all in the same shopping trip, which can be really hard for a speciality boutique.”

In order to tackle the challenge of a multi-generational approach, the Sorensen duo has had to trust its own style.

Ellen and Andy both laughed when asked about what is trendy is women’s fashion, saying “We are not the people to ask.”

“We are a unique boutique because we try to skew more classic than trendy,” Andy said. “We want you to be able to pull out a piece from your closet that will look like it belongs regardless of season or year.”

With a desire to find the best pieces for its clients, the duo takes a “tactile” approach which Ellen described as, “When we are at market, we are touching everything.”

The Sorensons want to see how it hangs and know how it feels, so they can give their clients something that is substantial.

“We are an introvert-owned business,” Ellen said. “We are here when you need us. We want honesty, we want people to look good and love what they bought.”

Ellen described her excitement for both old and new faces in the store this summer.

“We are delighted for our Ripon area customer base because that is the backbone of our support system and we are delighted for our summer visitors. We are happy to see them return every year.”

Dear Prudence, which celebrated its three-year anniversary in April of this year, is open seven days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day.