Joe Downtown

Joe Downtown: ‘Sorceress’ Sarah Nisperos and the origin of Tony Hsieh’s Downtown dream

Coterie’s Sarah Nisperos helped analyze the dream that brought Zappos Downtown.

They call her “the Sorceress.” They say Sarah Nisperos has a way of talking to the soul of a person, of seeing beyond the facade and helping him move past fear to attempt what others find impossible.

She might even be the reason Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh ultimately chose Downtown as the home of his corporate headquarters and the blank slate upon which to attempt a sweeping redevelopment plan.

It all began with a dream.

Nisperos had known Hsieh for years, even before Zappos started selling her yoga clothing line, Naked Lotus. One day, Hsieh, who lived in the southwest Valley, told her he wanted to talk to her about a dream he’d just had.

Over drinks at Town Square’s Yard House, he told her that in his dream he had wanted to build something like another Town Square, but with a twist. “He wanted it to be based on happiness,” she says. “I asked him if he wanted me to analyze the dream. He said he didn’t know.”

Nisperos says she had “already fallen in love with Downtown and always thought we needed a soul to this city.

“You can’t do another strip mall,” she told Hsieh. “If you really want to do this, you should invest in Downtown. Change the city. How many people can say they’ve done that?”

Something has to be understood about Nisperos. Ever seen the movie The Devil Wears Prada? It’s not that she was nefarious, but at one time, she sat very high on the fashion world’s food chain.

Now 35, Nisperos has been in fashion for about 18 years. After having a child at 23, she studied the retail clothing industry, rising through the ranks, until five years ago, she turned around the fortunes of a store on the Strip almost overnight. That put her in steady company with one of the world’s top designers and earned her a salary in the upper six-figures.

And she was miserable.

“Here I was at this show, dancing with Jay-Z and Kanye West, and I’m supposed to be so happy, but I’m really sad inside. This is what I spent my whole life to be, but everyone is so vain and trying to make others feel so bad. I was on anti-anxiety meds, depression meds. I was down to 96 pounds.”

She began to hate herself. “I felt this meanness come out of me all the time. ... My soul was dying. I couldn’t do it anymore.”

Watching Monsters, Inc. with her son, one line struck her: “You get more energy when you make people laugh than when you scare them.”

It was simplistic, almost childish, but it rang true to her. So she quit. She started a yoga clothing line and made that successful, too. Then legal issues cropped up, and rather than go through a protracted legal battle, she gave up the line. She was living off $400 a month, but she was immensely happy with her life, her work and her son.

Then she had the “dream talk” with Hsieh. Within days, she introduced him to Michael Cornthwaite, owner of Downtown Cocktail Room, who shared his vision for Downtown and talked of the potential: City Hall was going to be mothballed; Streamline Towers (now the Ogden) was practically empty; blocks and blocks of Fremont East were ripe for redevelopment.

Now, Hsieh never seems to want Nisperos too far away. She’s launching a shop at the Container Park that will sell her Delivering Happiness clothing line, and a few months ago she opened Coterie boutique on Fremont East, easily spotted by its odd, upside-down “Checks Cashed” sign.

“As a stylist, if you are the weirdest person in the room, others feel safe to be as outlandish as you,” Nisperos says. “The sign is part of that. I want people to throw off the world when they come here. If I had enough money, I’d make this place weirder and weirder still.”

Coterie is the opposite of high-pressure sales. People can come in, plug in their laptop and browse the Internet without looking at a stitch of clothing. And they often do. Nisperos thinks her placement at 515 Fremont, in the middle of Downtown’s redevelopment, is part of Hsieh’s master plan.

“I think I’m here in this spot because the new businesses come in and I listen to everyone,” she says. “Tony says, ‘You should go talk to Sarah.’ And I like that because I really like people. The beauty of this is I get to hang out with them as they come Downtown.”

And they, in turn, get to cast their dreams upon the Sorceress, who gives them the freedom to see that anything is possible.

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover Downtown, he lives and works there. He is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded Downtown journalist, stationed at an office in Emergency Arts. His work appears in the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Weekly.
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