For sports fans who enjoy meeting former athletes, a women’s and children’s boutique in Campbell may be the last place to expect to see a former National Hockey League player. However, thanks to a new business venture, that’s where ex-Sharks center Mark Smith can be found most days.
He and his fiancée Andrea have opened a clothing boutique on Campbell Avenue called “Ayla,” a store which features a clear South American theme -- which is true to Andrea’s native Peru – and includes attire for both women and children, as well as Brazilian-style swimwear.
“We opened in March and we’ve been pretty well accepted,” Smith said. “Hopefully, we can continue to grow it.”
The store name is of special meaning to Smith and his fiancée.
“The name actually comes from our daughter’s middle name,” he added. “The idea behind the boutique came from me being retired and needing to work and she always wanted to have a boutique. Her grandmother had a fashion school in Peru where she learned how to design clothes and do all this stuff, so that’s where the genesis of it came from.”
Smith has broadened his horizons in the office, especially with creating the store’s web site, www.myayla.com. He’s learned how to do some of the html coding so shoppers can simply peruse the products or purchase online.
“She’s been designing some very unique dresses,” Smith said. “Some lady came in here the other day and was with NOS Energy Drink and they did a launch party down at Fahrenheit, maybe a week ago. NOS put the whole thing on and had six models in from New York. They just happened to be walking by our store and said, ‘Andrea, I’d love for you to design some dresses for these models to wear and we’ll put you as a sponsor.’ So, she did six dresses in a week and there was some pretty dynamite, unique stuff. The show went great.”
The couple is as proud of the store’s quality as much as they are the designs.
“With our daughter, we thought it would be good to bring in some children’s clothes from Peru because they’re so unique and the cotton down there is really good,” Smith said. “We try to work with the natives in Peru as well. All the sweaters we have are hand sewn and all of them have stories behind them that are very unique. You can’t find them anywhere around here. They have tons of bright colors, all of it is very cute stuff for kids.”
The South American swimwear has worked well as well.
“All of our swimwear has been doing well because it’s very unique,” he said. “It’s all Brazilian cut bikinis, stuff that comes through Brazil. It’s very unique and no one can really find it around here.”
The store even dabbles in some jewelry.
“We work with two designers that do all of our custom jewelry, a lot of silver stuff and a lot of Amazon seeds and items from the jungle,” Smith said. “We try to bring in things you can’t find anywhere else.”
Hailing from Eyebrow, Saskatchewan, (Wikipedia.com lists the population at 135), the fashion industry may not seem like a natural fit, but Smith has jumped right into his new venture.
“It’s something I’m not used to, growing up in Canada and being a hockey player, but it’s cool,” Smith said. “I’ve always been intrigued by things I don’t know. It’s interesting to learn a new trade and just figure out how things work. It’s been a lot of work, but it has been fun to just watch things take shape.”
Smith hasn’t played for a year and has accepted that he can’t because of physical ailments. Most importantly, he has no regrets about his NHL career being over.
“I’m done,” Smith said. “My neck has not gotten any better. It doesn’t look good right now for going on, but I had a good run. I just have back and neck aches now, but I look back and I had a good career. For a guy who was never supposed to make it, it turned out not too bad.”
Smith defied the odds in two ways. First, he earned a spot on an NHL roster after being chosen in the ninth round of the 1997 NHL Entry Draft. Second, he played in the NHL despite being under 6-foot tall.
“Actually it was more like the 18th round because I got passed up the year before as well,” Smith said with a laugh.
When it comes to his favorite moments, there are a couple that will bring smiles to the faces of even non-Sharks fans.
“For some reason it’s fighting Sean Avery on back-to-back nights,” said Smith, who landed some major blows in the fights. “Also the playoff penalty kill we had against Edmonton (2006) when we were down two players and (defenseman Scott) Hannan didn’t have a stick. Then my series in the playoffs against Nashville (2006) where I scored three goals. Those are probably the key memories that I have to this day, pretty amazing stuff.”
(Yes, the Avery fight is on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LbWpaJwduXg)
Smith’s music career has taken a back seat, but that doesn’t mean his band, the Vinyl Trees, are on hiatus.
“The Trees are still living,” Smith said. “We took a year off or so when I went to play for the Flames. I came back and had a daughter, so I’ve not really been doing too much music.”
Not much playing, but he did a lot of legwork for a second album.
“I wrote a lot of stuff when I was in Calgary, when I was on my own,” he said. “We have a lot of new material that we’ve been writing and working on. We could probably go in the studio right now and record another album. I’m waiting for someone to fund it so, if anyone out there wants to fund another album for The Trees, give me a call.”
While the second album is on hold, The Trees are performing in Silicon Valley.
“We’ve been playing some local gigs trying to hone our skills after a little while off,” Smith said. “I’m playing with just our drummer at the Red Devil Lounge on Aug. 8 and then we’ll be playing at the Tiki Lounge downtown on the 13th and the Boulevard Tavern in Los Gatos on the 14th. Right now that’s all we have booked. We’re kind of just wondering what direction we really want to go in now.”
For now, Smith is content simply working on Ayla as he’s found a nice niche at the shop.
“Surprisingly, one of the easiest things I’ve found is that when I’m in here working I actually don’t mind because I can hang and talk with people,” Smith said. “I love being in downtown Campbell and it’s a cool little spot. I’ve made a lot of friends here. We get some fans coming in here and we always talk hockey. I rehash some old memories, which is always nice.”