When Barbara and Kevin Butler opened in August 1975, the store wasn’t nearly the size it is now.
Like many businesses looking to expand, they had to wait for something next door to go on sale. But they also had to slightly push back cases of meat each night to get a few more inches of space.
That’s because thanks to overlapping leases, the butcher shop the Butlers thought was closing in May of that year ended up staying open until around next February.
“We shared space with them for a few months there,” Barbara Butler said. “When they left we were sad, we liked them. We were actually selling jeans and wrapping them in that brown paper they used when selling people meat. Early on we got a free ad from WPLJ because a director from the station just happened to stop in and said he had never seen a store that was so funky and so cool looking.”
The butcher left, Rags expanded and kept acquiring more unique items, whether men’s or women’s clothing, books, antiques, art, just anything they liked. But after 38 years in business in Rye, the store is closing on May 4th. Butler announced earlier in the year the store was going to close and just this week decided on the date.
“People keep saying it’s bittersweet, but it’s more sweet,” she said. “We opened the store while we still dating, we didn’t get married until the year after we opened. And now we’re going out on our terms. We decided it was time to close the store, nobody else.”
She said they decided to close the store thanks to a “perfect storm” of events. Butler said their only daughter recently gave birth to her third child, all 3-years-old and younger, and announced she was moving to California.
“Without the store we can go visit them and spend however long out there we want,” she said.
Earlier this year, the Butlers also sold the Inn at Old Harbor on Block Island, R.I., which they owned for 27 years.
“We were driving back after selling that and we just felt such closure,” she said. “We owned this inn, it was successful and then we just sold it. It was to close out that chapter of our life.”
At one time the Butlers owned 16 different businesses, but that will be down to six after Rags closes in May. They also own a Rags in Block Island and Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, but the Rye location is the original one. The other four stores they own are also in Matha’s Vineyard. Those stores will stay open.
“Those are easy because they’re seasonal,” Butler said. “They open May 15 and close October 15, in and out real quick.”
Another reason to close down the store is because of how much retail has moved online, which is something Butler said they didn’t want to do.
“We’re dinosaurs and we don’t want to change,” she said. “This store is pretty much just found items, a lot of one-of-a-kind items, and that stuff you don’t really sell online.”
Butler said her husband is responsible for the direction the store took, brining in an eclectic mix of items.
“That’s all him,” Butler said. “He’s a genius. I’m the practical one, me and [store manager] Penny [Hagele Hogben]. He the artist and we pay the bills. This is his passion and nobody can duplicate what he’s done.”
Butler said when the two high school sweethearts opened the store, her parents thought it was a simply a phase.
“He bought a different car ever year,” she said. “There’s no way even he thought he’d commit to something for this long.”
Being around so long, Butler said since they announced they were closing, people have come to the store to share their memories of shopping there, from one woman who bought her first dress at the store to another who bought her prom dress there.
Butler said that aspect of the closing has been very pleasant, and she hopes more people come in before they close. She also said if people come in before the closing, they’ll find some great deals as well.
“We’ve had a great run and we’re very thankful to all the outstanding people in the community who welcomed us in and have shopped here for many years,” Butler said. “The day we close we’ll probably be here until eight at night, maybe we’ll open some champagne and have a reception. It’ll be a really nice night and something to celebrate.”