ExoticaStore draws far-flung customers with
by Stacey Morris
The Glens Falls Post-Star
SARATOGA SPRINGS--Mabou is a playground for adults
that sprawls over three stories and for nearly a full
block (462-468) of Broadway. From floor-to-ceiling are
treasures ranging from Buddhas carved of blue frosted
glass to hand-cast monkey lamps to exotic pieces of
furniture -- only don't call it a furniture store.
"We think of it as
more of a lifestyle store," said Betty Straus, who
opened Mabou along with her husband, Mark, more than 30
But "adventure" would also be an accurate description
of Mabou. Opening the glass doorway to the store is like
landing in Oz -- once inside, you've entered a lushly
decorated continent full of dark wood cabinetry, taut
leather armchairs and potted palms with an intoxicating
"We don't sell just furniture, but our byline is
'furnishings for the well-traveled home,'" said Mark as
he pointed out a marble-topped wooden credenza from
Egypt painted with an intricate floral pattern.
indeed. Near a case full of glittering faux emerald and
diamond jewelry is someone's future dining room table,
its wood surface adorned with two ornate tapestries and
mammoth brass candle holders from India, gold tassels
tied seductively around their middle. With an inventory
that ranges from sofas to African masks to hand-woven
rugs from countries around the globe (Indonesia, Peru
and China, to name a few), it's hard to picture Mabou's
original 1971 incarnation.
Back then, the store inhabited one half of what is
now Bruegger's Bagels, and sold mostly gift items like
jewelry, clothing, candles and greeting cards.
"Mabou evolved over time as our interests and tastes
changed," recalled Mark. "The changes just happened
organically." Which meant that, as the couple's two
children were growing, toys were added; when Betty and
Mark took an interest in gourmet cooking, a line of
cookware was sold; the universal simplicity of candles
and cards became accented with whimsical gifts like an
Isle of Lewis chess set and a model Olympic racing-class
Ultimately, other interests became so consuming for
the couple (primarily, wanting to raise their children),
they led to Mabou's seven-year hiatus in the '80s.
"I helped start the Spring Hill Saratoga (a Waldorf
school)," said Betty with a smile. "My son was in the
first, first-grade class."
But, eventually, the allure of operating Mabou
beckoned and when their children were older they decided
to open again.
"We missed our customers a lot," said Mark. "Running
a store like this is a very social thing, they're like
"And we missed traveling," said Betty. The couple
often find themselves out of town on national and
international business trips for the store, though some
of the trips are taken by Mabou's buyers.
"Over the past three years, our rug buyers who travel
to India, Pakistan and Afghanistan have to travel with
bodyguards," Mark said.
Finding the unique, Mark and Betty say they go to
such far-flung lengths for hard-to-find items for one
primary reason -- their customers.
"We have people
shopping here from as far away as Manhattan and
Connecticut," he said. "The buying and selling of goods
is a secondary function -- we're a service organization
serving the needs of the community -- sales volume is
related to how well we meet the needs of our local,
regional and visiting population."
Ray Brooks, owner of the leather store Brooks on
Broadway, said he's furnished three homes plus his new
Saratoga Springs business courtesy of Mabou. "It's a
destination store which is truly unique, they have
things you won't find anywhere else," he said. "And the
price is absolutely right...you just can't find the same
kind of items with a similar style or price in
Manhattan." Brooks said that, while he's purchased
several rounds of dining room tables, dressers and wall
units from Mabou, his favorite finds are what he calls
"artifacts," objects with an ancient relic feel that
aren't offered en masse. "It's always fresh there...to
be really successful, you need to be something you can't
get anywhere else and that's Mabou."
But, even though some of their clientele shops in
Mabou for their second and third homes, Betty said it's
a myth that the store is only for the wealthy. "There
are things here for all budgets," she said. "Some of our
things are priced promotionally."
Sharing the Wine
The secrets to Mabou's
success were even included in the 1996 book "From Vision
in Action," by Christopher Schaefer in a chapter titled
"The Principals of a Successful Business."
At the end of last summer, Mabou expanded to its
current three floors along Broadway, plus a clearance
boutique in the basement. After surveying a newly
decorated bedroom in the eastern corner of Mabou's
cavernous second floor, Mark and Betty wended their way
upstairs to the rug gallery, where dozens of handmade,
vegetable-dyed rugs hang. "Our customers love the rugs
because they come from so many different regions," said
Betty, gliding past a red and gold rug from
Turkmenistan. Past the rugs and a display of silver
camel candle holders, Mark and Betty made their way to
the third floor's walnut and burlwood bar. "This is part
of our daily ritual," Mark grinned as he poured his wife
a glass of Saratoga water while Steve Tyrell crooned on
the nearby stereo. "We'll usually share some wine in the
evening with our customers," said Betty. "It's a nice
way for us to end the day."
Betty smiled as she took another sip of Saratoga
water. "Mabou is a Native American word that means
sparkling waters...we didn't know that when we named the
store...who would have known it would fit so well with