When you come from a well-known local family and then you marry into another well-known local family, what does that make you? In this case, it makes you Lindsay Givens Casale, co-owner with her husband Dan of GIVENS, a funky boutique on the Washington Street Mall with a carefully curated selection of men’s and women’s clothing, accessories, books, stationery, and jewelry.
Lindsay has fashioned a small retreat of sorts, just outside the back door of the shop. In the narrow alley between the rear of her shop and the surrounding building, she fashioned a cute little courtyard with a café table and large potted plants—a peaceful little oasis for her and her employees. That’s where we met to chat.
A friend just asked me who I was about to interview, and I said, “Lindsay Casale.” My friend said, “She’s a Givens! She’ll always be a Givens to me.”
It’s funny, there are some Cape May people who never say, “Lindsay Casale.” Legally my name is Lindsay Givens Casale. I love being a Givens and will always be a Givens and I love being a Casale!
I know that you love being a native too.
You know, I don’t feel jaded by the natural beauty here. Each day when I walk the beach I am still in awe. I’ve spent the majority of my life here and find it breathtakingly beautiful.
As a child in Cape May, what sparked and inspired you creatively?
Cape May was always such a creative community. There was a woman in my neighborhood who I cat-sat for, and she was an art therapist. That was the first time I had ever heard of a profession like that. Everyone knows Susan Ross [Cape May-based artist and potter] and Sue Lotozo [textile artist] who I’ve known all my life. And I was a YAP kid (Center for Community Arts Youth Arts Program), and we were exposed to so many creative people and career possibilities. When you are a native, you don’t realize until you go off to college and hear about the places where other people grew up that you realize how special it is here. You realize it’s hard to fit into a typical 9-to-5 job and that there are so many ways to model your career. That’s what’s inspiring.
Is that what led you to opening a shop that features the work of artists and independent designers?
I had a brief stint in the corporate design world and am very grateful for that experience. After college I had gotten an internship with Calvin Klein helping with runway projects and Met Gala looks and red-carpet events. But I knew in the long run it was not something that was going to satisfy me. Having grown up in a place that had so many artists and small business owners, I realized that’s what I wanted.
What was it like coming back to Cape May after working in design for a global corporation?
I felt that there was a big change happening in town. That was about 2009. While I was growing up, I never thought I could be doing what I am doing now in Cape May. I always thought I’d have to be in New York to be successful at design work. When I returned, I realized it wasn’t as seasonal as it had been, things didn’t just shut down after Labor Day anymore. Then I thought that maybe I could have a little business here.
Did you pursue retail immediately when you returned?
I started with a website and then did some pop-up shops. We opened here on Washington Street in 2015. Molly Bernstein was the first local potter to join with her merchandise and it grew organically like that. We also have an exclusivity agreement with most of the merchandise we sell. This past year I began working with a small factory in New York who manufactures clothes specifically for my shop with the GIVENS label on them.
I feel a certain vibe in your store and noticed it even in the books you’ve started to carry. It’s very clear to me that those titles have been carefully selected to tie into the environment of the store.
Thank you for saying that. There is a vibe, a definite pulse of things. The book section is not only what I have recently read but a big part of it is the staff who enjoys talking about books and sharing that with others. Whether a book or a shirt or a pair of pants, there is a reason each item is in the shop.
As a designer, do you consider the shop itself a changing work of art?
I do. I treat it like that. I think of the store as a collage of what interests me.
Retail businesses and hospitality aren’t the only economic backbone of our town. Our commercial fishing industry is one of the largest on the east coast, and your father was part of that.
He passed away the first year we opened the store. He was a commercial fisherman. In the 1970s, when he was in college, he would work on the boats in the summer. He was an English major and the best email and short note writer ever. Anyway, he worked on clam boats and was a captain for a while. After my brother was born, he started a crabbing business which he and my mother ran. After he retired from clamming, he would take my brother and I out on the boat. Those are some of my most beautiful memories. I remember falling asleep in the wheelhouse using a life jacket as a pillow and waking up all salty. He always joked with me because every time I got on a boat, I would fall asleep. Even now as an adult I can’t even take a ferry ride without nodding off.
It’s not uncommon that a true native of Cape May is connected to all these industries.
That’s so true. And my great grandparents were the last lighthouse keepers of Cape May Lighthouse before it switched to an automated electric light in the 1930s.
Okay, so that definitely makes you Cape May royalty.
(laughing) And I grew up on New England Road and my mom still lives there.
Was summer 2022 a good one?
Well, it started off with someone driving in reverse on my street and hitting my car. So that’s how I knew summer in Cape May officially started! I suppose the best part of the summer was Dan finding an old croquet set in the house he is renovating for his mother and our whole friend group got really hooked on croquet. Every Sunday we all got together with some tea sandwiches and played croquet.
How Victorian of you!
Oh, it’s very Victorian! Summer can be tough when you live and work here, and it brought much-needed levity. But this past summer was great!
I’d like to talk for a moment about the summer of 2019 when you and your husband showed your support to the LGBT community. You allowed your store to be the host location for a gay pride event that benefited the Straight Gay Alliance clubs of the local schools.
We loved it! It was important to me and important to my staff. We thought, “Yeah, we should celebrate!” And that’s the Cape May I remember from when I was growing up—an all-inclusive place. Some of the younger people who worked for me were concerned that Cape May was not the all-inclusive place that it had been when they were growing up. That’s why we felt it was so important to celebrate—so it continues to feel inclusive to others.
Would you say that Cape May was more inclusive in the 90s than it is now?
It’s not as visible now as it was then. I think about the younger members of my staff and my circle of friends and how it must be for them when it’s not as visible. That’s the importance of hosting a gay pride event—so it is visible.
The community seemed thrilled with it.
That was spearheaded by (staff and friends) Michelle, Wesley, Steven, and Mag. They approached me, and I said, “Yes, let’s do it.” I was so proud of each of them for putting it together. And so many of our neighbors here on Washington Street supported us. We even had parents of kids who came in and thanked us.
You were also quite active with the West Cape May’s zoning for a while, weren’t you?
For a few years I was on Planning and Zoning. I hope in the future I will have more time to work with things like that, but I don’t know if I’m quite there yet. The shop is my priority, and I also work for Cape May MAC. I’m just very busy right now.
What are you doing for Cape May MAC?
I am helping with their online shop and creating merchandise with them. We have some really cool note cards based on the stained glass in the windows in the Physick Estate. Steven Olszewski is doing an awesome job illustrating them. It’s really fun and a different kind of design project. We’re going to be doing some beautiful silk scarves based on the Lincrusta [wallpaper in the Phyisick house]. I love this gig. And I get to go on some deep dives into history and Frank Furness [architect of the Emlen Physick Estate].
As a designer, can you comment on the Physick Estate’s clean lines and geometry of Frank Furness layered with the opulent redecoration that Dr. Physick did in 1889?
I think Furness was confined by the Victorian era, and he was also confined by his clients’ taste. He designed for very innovative people. He often designed a home for a client who might have wanted, let’s say, some French Revival. With all the style revivals of the 19th century, Furness was concerned with where things were going. He was pulling new designs right out of his head, not taking them from the past like so many other designers of the time. Because of this, I see Furness as the birth of a uniquely modern American architecture.
Any sage advice to readers who might want to start a business?
I’m not sure I’ve been on this planet long enough to be giving anyone sage advice. Check back in a few decades! However, I can borrow from someone who did earn their stripes. When I first opened the shop, Rosemary Stumpo (Cape May restaurateur and former purchaser for Wanamaker’s) would always stop by. She’d razz me, we’d share some laughs, and she left me with lots of great business advice that often doubled as life advice. The early days of starting a business are accompanied by lots of doubt but Rosemary would always tell me, “You’ve got panache” and encourage me to simply keep going.
One day, as I was waist deep in cardboard, unpacking boxes while wondering if starting a business was a good idea or not, I heard laughter coming from the front door. Rosemary was standing in the doorway and yelled to the back, “I bet you forgot you ordered all that stuff, didn’t ya?” I took a break; we sat up in the front window and she told me a patented Rosemary one-liner that really stuck with me: “Don’t be afraid to live on the brink of overboard.” Whether it’s your business, your relationships, or your passions, you’ve just gotta’ trust your guts and give it
your all! ■