Retail Star Power in the City of Angels

When Michelle van der Heijden was growing up in the suburbs of New York City, her mother owned a book and gift shop with a “mom and pop” feel that she always loved. She was also exposed to the bohemian-style boutiques of lower Manhattan during frequent visits to see her father. Fast forward a couple of decades, and the result is an eclectic store created by Michelle named MUSH.

With over twenty years of retail and interior design experience, Michelle personally picks out every item sold at MUSH, which features rare jewelry, local art, elegant furniture, home accessories, antiques and gifts. Her expertise has led to high-profile consulting projects, including set design gigs for actress/talk show host Jenny McCarthy, and having her in-store art collection appear on several network programs, including Heroes and Saving Grace.

Even with Michelle’s New York upbringing, MUSH has a distinctly LA vibe. “Los Angeles still seems to offer possibilities for small, unique shops, much like Greenwich Village did in the 80’s and early 90’s”, says Michelle. “Although LA can be hectic, it’s still laid back in many ways compared to New York City.”

Michelle’s support of local artists and designers-- and strong belief in featuring products made from reconstituted materials-- has led to a loyal clientele, including many celebrities who have followed her from the original MUSH in Hollywood, to the new store in Silver Lake. But it’s her dedication to local talent and community building that keeps the traffic coming. “One of our main objectives is to keep smaller neighborhood communities intact by selling art and jewelry by talented local artists”, says Michelle. “We also support other small community artists from around the country, and if we choose to buy internationally, we make sure each item is produced in locations that share our philosophy. Our intention is to create a neighborhood shopping council where all businesses along Silver Lake Boulevard will work together to better the shopping experience in the area.”

MUSH has also developed a healthy online business, which accounts for approximately 45% of gross annual income. Michelle’s strategic use of social media, local business listings and attending swap meets and fairs in and around Los Angeles has made the transition to Silver Lake relatively smooth, and in an era ruled by faceless big box retailers, her creativity and hands-on approach has proven to be a refreshing formula.

Like many small business owners, Michelle initially struggled with the costs and logistics of outside accountants, who handled her books on an ongoing basis. She credits a switch to QuickBooks in 2008 as a game-changing decision that helped MUSH achieve its current level of success. “Once the QuickBooks database was set up, it functioned as an integral part of our business, helping us keep tracks of vendors, sales, allocating money spent and allowing access to charts with details about cash flow and income projections”, said Michelle. “One of its greatest features for us is the cloud functionality, and its ability to share accountant reports over the internet. We have a small office space and telecommuting with our accountant has saved us money and scheduling headaches.”

The first incarnation of MUSH played a significant role in reinvigorating a previously underdeveloped area of Hollywood. Michelle now looks to replicate that success in Silver Lake, where unique shopping experiences and celebrity sightings are part of an increasingly vibrant landscape.