Kent’s community, mother’s legacy inspire young entrepreneur’s clothing store

Darren D'Altorio

New boutique owner says store will cater to Kent State students

Neil Dukes will open the new Tree City Clothing on Cherry Street this Saturday. DARREN D’ALTORIO | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: DKS Editors

As Neil Dukes hangs clothing racks on the wall, passersby keep stopping and staring at the airbrushed T-shirt taped to the inside of the storefront window. On the shirt is the silhouette of a twisted-limbed tree backlit by a hot pink and orange sunset. The words “Tree City Clothing” frame the image.

Dukes’ vision is at 168 Cherry St., a bone in the strip mall skeleton known as University Plaza. He opens his store tomorrow, beginning a career as a small business owner in Kent.

Tree City Clothing is a boutique that blurs the lines of fashion, he said, offering students and residents a place to shop for quality clothes without having to leave town. Neil describes the apparel as “urban wear,” featuring polo shirts, graphic tees, dress shirts and sneakers for the guys, and for women flowing tops, shorts, evening wear, sandals and stilettos.

“I’ve been going on campus and going out to the bars in Kent to promote and take notice of what people are wearing,” he said. In preparation for the grand opening, he’s been studying fashion magazines for the season. He’s also been appealing to his target market, the students, by passing out fliers and advertising on TV2 and Black Squirrel Radio.

Dukes has an affinity for Kent State students handed down from his mother, Carolyn Dukes, who died in December 2008. She was an administrative assistant in the department of Pan-African Studies at Kent State. Dukes said the students who knew her loved her, and she thought the Kent State student body made the community thrive.

“Any time she could do anything for the students she would do it,” he said. “If a student couldn’t get home for the holidays, she would take them in.”


Where: 168 Cherry St., in the University Plaza.

When: 10 a.m. tomorrow

Featuring: Free hamburgers, hotdogs and a 10 percent discount on all merchandise.

Dukes’ store is an extension of his mom both physically and mentally. In her passing, she left him life insurance money. He invested around $30,000 of the inheritance in Tree City Clothing. That investment accounts for the tangible – store space, inventory, employee wages, advertising, etc. It’s the intangible elements of the store that make it an inspirational business, he said.

Dukes said he wants the store to be the epicenter of a community network of small businesses.

He is in talks with some of Kent’s fashion design students about selling their original designs in his store.

Dukes credits a friend for inspiring his outlook on business.

“An old friend told me, ‘there’s nothing to failure but a try. And if you try and give it your best shot, you never fail,'” Dukes said. “That’s what’s up.”

He said he’s “extremely nervous” about the store opening. Rightfully so: The economy has taken its toll recently on other small, locally owned businesses in Kent. But amid the nervousness, he feels a sense of pride.

“I can feel my mom telling me she’s proud,” he says. “If she was still alive, she’d be scared and nervous, like me, but she’d be proud.”

Contact College of Communication and Information reporter Darren D’Altorio at [email protected].