Sanni Baumgaertner’s version of the American Dream

It is 11:30 a.m. on a Wednesday, and Sanni Baumgaertner walks up the stairs to a window filled and open room. Vintage furs, leather boots, handmade pillows and buttery soap greet her as she steps to her computer to do inventory.

This is a regular day for Baumgaertner at her store, Community. Community, located on Broad and Jackson, has emerged as a local hot spot for artisans and students. Since opening in September of 2010, Baumgaertner has come to understand and love the business world.

Everything in the store environmentally friendly, pre-worn, re-purposed and locally made. Baumgaertner focuses on sustainability for an unlikely reason: she is German.

“Growing up in Germany, there was a lot of education about environmental issues,” Baumgaertner said.

Her German roots spread beyond the desire to be sustainable. They influence the way she styles her store, conducts business and lives her life.

An immigrant with many trades, Baumgaertner set out to make her vision of opening a vintage clothing store into a reality. She, like countless others before her, is living her version of the American Dream.

Baumgaertner moved to Athens, Georgia in early 90s. She came as an exchange student from Nuremburg, Germany and chose UGA for the psychology program and growing music scene.

“I started playing in bands while in Athens. We used German instruments and played German music for the students,” Baumgaertner said.

She began working in clothing stores around Athens as a student. She sold vintage clothing and furnishings to other stores in the local area. Baumgaetner saw how fun the it was looking for what she calls “vintage treasures.”

Baumgaertner said that opening a business like Community was far easier to do in America than in Germany. “There is more red tape in Germany, especially with business,” she said.

Baumgaertner believes America allows all individuals the freedom to create. She took a chance with opening Community and has never felt her creativity stifled.

She has been able to keep her vision of having a fashionable yet eco-friendly store in Athens alive and well. Community is different from the other vintage stores in Athens, because Baumgaertner has been able to use her German influence.

“I notice that when costumers come in from Germany, they get why I picked certain items. I can tell that I have a bit of a European point of view,” Baumgaertner said.

The most evident German inspiration can be seen by the general style of Community. The clothing and accessories are feminine, yet edgy. In the spirit of European fashion, Baumgaertner said, “it’s not just all pretty here, we like to toughen it up.”

Baumgaertner’s staff is small and consists of ten interns. The interns range from PR specialists, to special event coordinators, to social media experts.

Emily Newdow has been working as an intern since November, and also sells her handmade pillows to the store. Newdow said, “Baumgaertner is probably the coolest employer I have ever worked for. I have never had a boss that asks me if I am happy everyday.”

Newdow senses the German influence in the store. She said, “Baumgaertner has an amazing eye, both a European and American eye for fashion.”

Leyla Genculu has been interning at Community since January 2012. She noted that Baumgaertner often brings back vintage finds from Germany to sell in the store. She said, “there is definitely a European street-style to the store.”

Baumgaertner typically buys merchandise for the store two times per week. She pays particular attention to items that are modern yet have a vintage feel to them.

Community is not focused on brining in clothing from every era, as many vintage stores in Athens are. Rather, Baumgaertner looks for articles from the 40s, 80s and 90s and tries to bring them into modern times.

She took her eclectic tastes to heightened levels and created a clothing line called Community Service. She redesigns some of the clothes she buys to make them fit with the current times. “I often do this with denim cut-off shorts,” Baumgaertner said.

Finding a secret spot to buy merchandise is key for any vintage storeowner. Baumgaertner noted that she has a few, but will never tell anyone. She goes to flea markets, art shows and estate sales in the local area for the majority of her inventory. She recently began going on Esty.com to search for local artists.

People have begun coming up to Baumgaertner and asking to sell their goods in her store. This is a true mark of success for her. “People know the store now and approach me about selling their work. It is pretty cool to be known,” Baumgaertner said.

Baumgaertner said, the American Dream means “starting with nothing and having the possibility of creating a life for yourself that you want to live.”

With almost two years of successful business operations, a loving group of employees and local interest in the store, Baumgaertner is living her American Dream.

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