u-boutiqueU Gallery will feature luxury goods on consignment and works by brain-injured artists. (Click to enlarge) Rcsm2_010508

One of the stores opening as part of a surge in new consignment shops in the Red Bank area has an unusual pedigree.

It’s called U Gallery, and it’s an offshoot of Universal Institute, a player in the healthcare industry specializing in services for brain-injured clients.


No, that’s not an egregious misprint. Lisa Lasso, who co-owns the rehab and vocational training facility, says a  consignment shop/art gallery can work, and say she has the track record to prove it.

When it opens at 80 Broad Street in Red Bank in mid-January, U Gallery will join Gallery U in Montclair and Boutique U in Upper Montclair as the latest extension of a business that Lasso founded 21 years ago with her late husband, Jerry Lasso, after he was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident.

In addition to rehab, vocational training and medical services offered from its home in Livingston, Universal also runs about 20 group homes for brain-injured clients, including one in Long Branch, and operates in a handful of states.

The stores, staffed by Universal clients, operate as “high-end luxury boutiques” selling Gucci, Coach, Chanel and other brands of clothing and accessories acquired from individuals or donated by manufacturers. They also feature on their walls artwork, some of it created by patients and clients of Universal.

The work “affords our high-functioning clients the ability to go back to work — working the register, steaming clothes, doing marketing,” Lasso told redbankgreen in a recent phone interview. “They love it.”

The stores periodically hold gallery openings for artists who are both client and non-client, she said.

But as a business model, does providing re-entry employment pay the rent in a pricey downtown?

It always has so far, said Lasso. But even if it doesn’t, that’s not why the stores exist, she’s quick to add. They exist primarily to help clients transition back into productive lives, she said.

“It’s a model that works for us,” said Lasso, who co-owns Universal with Adam Steinberg. “We’re in it for something completely different” than other retailers.