Rebirth. Starting over. New beginnings. This was the idea when an ambitious young woman chose Caterpillar as the name of her second-hand children’s clothing boutique.
The year was 2015. The owner, Lenzi Leonard and her young family were also starting fresh in the city of Stockton, the place she and her husband Bob had grown up calling home.
“After college we had been in the bay area for 12 years. I’d been working as a buyer in retail. We wanted to be closer to family and I really wanted to open my own business,” said Leonard in a serious tone. “It’s something I had always wanted to do.”
Leonard had her first child Ellie, in the bay area, and she became accustomed to shopping at local children’s used clothing shops.
“They were very popular with young mothers and offered a great way to trade and purchase gently used clothes, toys and baby gear at lower prices. I noticed when I came home to visit, Stockton did not have anything comparable.”
Leonard’s second child Will was a baby when she first leased space on the Miracle Mile and opened Caterpillar Children’s Boutique.
“The beginning was very challenging. I was at the shop all the time and carried Will around in a Boba baby wrap. Thank goodness my husband Bob was so supportive and willing on the homefront.”
The thing that always kept Leonard going was the creativity and the customers.
“My Favorite part of this business has always been creating the window displays and greeting a first time shopper as they enter the store with a big smile on their face.
Initially, Leonard applied some of the industry standards she encountered as a shopper at children’s used clothing stores. Over time though Leonard says she has relied on her own creativity and design skills to enhance the buy *sell * trade experience for her customers.
Currently sellers are offered 30% trade-in credit of the determined resale value for clothes and shoes. Cash buys for gear such as strollers and portable cribs are on an as-needed basis and are determined in-store. All apparel considered for trade must be freshly laundered and without stains or holes.
Caterpillar also carries a few new items by local designers such as handmade hair bows, bow ties, jumpers and sleepers.
Another service Leonard has incorporated is the purchase of school uniforms. A+ uniforms for Presentation and Annunciation can be purchased directly through Caterpillar’s website.
Seasonal items have always been a major draw for her customers, says Leonard.
“Costumes, snow clothes, swimwear and holiday dresses are always a great buy at the shop. Those items are expensive in traditional retail, and children outgrow them so quickly, so it’s a great way for a family to save money.”
Caterpillar also carries lightly used dance and shoe apparel.
Two years after opening Caterpillar Leonard hired a part time worker for the shop and accepted a position in Consumer Affairs at Diamond Walnut. She is now part of a 4-person team at Diamond in Marketing and Product Development.
Leonard continued to work weekends at Caterpillar and managed all the social media platforms marketing her products and services.
In August of 2019 Leonard attended a National Night Out event hosted by the neighborhood and merchants of Yosemite Street Village.
“I was so impressed with the camaraderie, set up and work done for the event. Everyone really seemed to care about the village and improving the environment and keeping it a family oriented, safe place to be.”
“My instincts told me Yosemite Street Village would be a good place to move Caterpillar. I moved into this spot two months later in October and it’s proven to be a great home for the business.”
Co-Founders Julie Contreras and Miguel Guillen of the Yosemite Street Village, are currently applying for a 501C-3 status. Leonard has been busy doing her part as a Business Liaison drafting up the bi-laws for the 15 merchants of Yosemite Street Village.
“It truly started as a grass roots revitalization project,” says Leonard. Julie and Miguel have been instrumental in leading the efforts of this wonderful community of small locally owned businesses. If we achieve the non-profit status we will be able to apply for grants from the city and make more improvements in the area.”
As forward movement, momentum and new beginnings are no strangers to Leonard she recently sold Caterpillar to Melissa Whittock, local owner of Chalked By Melissa.
Whittock will take over a loyal customer base as Caterpillar boasts almost 3000 followers garnished thru long hours, ingenuity, word of mouth, the powers of social media, and great customer service.
Art classes and storytime are new offerings Whittock is considering for Caterpillar customers.
“I’ll really miss this place, and my customers but I am thrilled that Caterpillar has a wonderful new owner. It feels so good to have taken the plunge seven years ago and to have kept it afloat. I’m so glad the shop will still be here for people.”