What started from a joke between her and her former boss during college, turned into a career for State College local, Theresa Ritzman. In 2013, Ritzman began her job at Connections Clothing in downtown State College, and continued to work at the store until her graduation from Penn State in 2016.
During her time working at Connections in college, Theresa became more and more knowledgable about the ins and outs of running the store. She worked about 30 hours per week, along with taking classes and being a part of the Snowboard Club.
After earning her degree in management and marketing, Theresa accepted an internship in Southern California with the popular clothing brand LF. She eventually became an Assistant Operations Manager. After being with the company for about a year and a half, Theresa realized that what she was doing wasn’t for her.
“The old owner and I use to joke when I was in college that I should buy the store, so I kinda knew I always had the opportunity. But I had to leave State College for a while to realize it is something I wanted to do,” said Ritzman. “Once I was in LA for over a year, I realized that I hated working for a company, because I would put in so much extra work and it went unnoticed. I decided to call the old owner and ask him if the offer was still on the table.”
Theresa headed back to her hometown of State College in preparation for buying the store from former owner, Bob Steinbach. Even though she was dedicated and extremely knowledgable about Connections, the process of becoming the new owner was far from easy.
“It was really tough. I talked to a lot of bankers that didn’t believe in me, and thought I was ‘too young and didn’t know what I wanted in life.’ It took me over 8 months to be able to get a loan to buy the store, I was denied so many times because of how young I am,” said Ritzman.
It was a difficult process, but Ritzman was finally able to purchase the store in November of 2019. She dealt with many people who didn’t believe in her, but she was able to look to Penn State for help.
“The PSU Small Business Development Center helped me with buying the store. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have the store,” said Ritzman.
Now, almost one year later, business is booming at Connections. With new policies and cleaning procedures in place due to COVID-19, the store is able to safely operate in both the women’s section and the men’s section, which offers men’s formal wear options.
Not only does Theresa own and manage Connections, but she also does all of the buying. This involves predicting trends, and keeping in mind multiple audiences. Even though Connections receives much of its business from Penn State students, there are clothes available for all age groups.
“I have so many strategies that sound insane, but in my mind I break things down into categories like seasonal, timeless, accessories, and best selling items. So then in my mind everyday I go through with what we are missing in each of those categories and break that down even more into sub categories. Then I have to think of pre-ordering and immediates I need to fill in…..like I said my mind just works strange and somehow helps me get it done,” said Ritzman.
Despite the fact that Theresa was a Penn State student herself not too long ago, her knowledge of buying for the students, and other customers, has come from years of learning, research, and getting to know her target audience. She has developed extensive knowledge of good quality, unique, and reasonably priced brands that she carries in the store.
“Bob (the old owner) started his first store in 1969. He taught me everything about buying and running a women’s clothing store and he is still helping me today! Age and gender don’t make any difference in owning a business,” said Ritzman.
Connections carries Free People items, as well as many trendy and affordable brands. There is a wide range of merchandise including going out clothes, comfy loungewear, stylish day to day items, and plenty of accessories.
“Free People is my favorite band, everyone that works for me knows that, I have so much timeless and unique stuff from them,” said Ritzman.
If you’ve ever stopped into the Connections there’s a chance you’ve met Archie, Theresa’s four year old chocolate lab, and the most infamous Connections employee. He loves interacting with the customers and sporting his tie-dye bow tie.
You never know what a college job or extracurricular activity could lead to. For Theresa, her college job turned into owning a small business. It may not be a straight or easy path, but going after your goals and pursuing your passions will always lead you to where you are meant to be.
Visit Connections on 130 S Allen Street, or check out the Connections Clothing website to learn more about what Connections has to offer, and for online orders!