One of the major perks to shopping local is the interaction shoppers have with the small business owner. Unless they are at market, boutique owners spend the majority of their days in their shops. They know everything about their merchandise, having personally selected and purchased each piece, so they have a vested interest in keeping their customers happy. Because of this, the customer service is excellent, and the perks of being a loyal customer are fabulous. With this in mind, get to know your local boutique owners because they certainly want to get to know you!
We visited our favorite local boutique owners and will feature a different one every other week! Each owner would love for you to stop in to say hello and there may be a surprise perk in it for you!
Jennifer & Lois Geschke: J.A. WHITNEY
OWNERS SINCE: June, 2011 (originally opened in 1994)
What inspired you to buy J.A. Whitney?
Jennifer: I was inspired to do it because I love shopping, especially buying gifts for others. I’ve always wanted to own a gift boutique. I’d been working as an attorney in commercial litigation and was ready to make a change. In January of 2011, I visited the store with a friend and told her that I wished I could own a store like J.A. Whitney. Both my mom and I had always been loyal customers of the shop. Less than a month later the owners sent an email to all of their customers saying that the store was for sale. I immediately called my mom to see if I could drag her out of retirement and then proceeded to set up a meeting with the store owners.
Lois: Jennifer called me within 30 seconds after receiving that email! We talked about it and I thought, we just may be able to swing this! The timing was perfect because I’d just retired after twenty four years of working in an administrative position in the Clayton school district.
How has J.A. Whitney changed under your ownership?
Jennifer: My mom and I are the third owners of J.A. Whitney, which celebrates twenty-five years in April of 2019. The store has evolved over time and with new owners but we’ve made it our own since taking it over. We had a vision, and the store really needed a face lift, so we closed the shop in August and September of 2017 and completely renovated it. It’s more functional and spacious. Our biggest complement is when a customer comes in and says the store makes them happy. We love hearing that!
What specific roles do each of you have for the shop?
Lois: I handle most of the back office things such as H.R., payroll and special orders.
Jennifer: I run the day to day within the store but both of us go on the buying trips because it helps to have two people with two different viewpoints buying for the store. There are times when I say no way to something and she pushes for it. It may take a little while but it usually sells like gangbusters. That’s when my mom says her favorite phrase, “You’re welcome.”
What is your favorite thing about owning a store?
Jennifer: We’ve always been close so we love that we get to work with each other but we also get to work with an amazing group of women on our staff. Most them have been here since the beginning, and a couple of the women have been here since the original owner. We don’t have a big turnover so it’s a pretty tight knit group that we have. There is so much creativity and our staff has such a great rapport with our customers, many of whom have been coming since 1994!
What is your favorite item in the store?
The piggy bank has been the top item since we opened and we still have the traditional best selling items but we’ve mixed in new and exciting gift items. The big thing now is the clear bags with the vinyl monograms. Many stadiums and concert venues are requiring them so they’ll be a staple for most people.
I also really love our wraps and lightweight bamboo ponchos that can be personalized. They come in many colors and pair with anything. They’re always a best seller and make a great gift.
Lois: I love the Mariposa line which is made from recycled aluminum. It looks elegant but you don’t have to polish it like silver. It’s my go to gift when I’m invited to a shower or wedding.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a shop owner?
Jennifer: Something travel related. I love to travel and explore.
Lois: I love to travel too but I get to do more than Jennifer because she runs the store day to day.
What’s your favorite place to shop outside of St. Louis?
Jennifer: We both love Franklin, Tennessee just outside of Nashville. It has the coolest little downtown area with one little strip that has all the cutest local places that we visit every time we go.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to open a boutique?
Jennifer: It will always be a work in progress. We discover new ways of doing things all of the time and we are always trying to improve. That never stops. I don’t think any new shop owner knows going into it just how much time it will take. It’s 24 / 7 which I love, but I’m always thinking of the store, and we work all the holidays. Christmas Eve is no longer a relaxing day at home. It’s fun, but you are working a lot of hours. Going to market is also hard work because there is a lot of ground you have to cover in a small amount of time, and so many decisions you have to make on the spot. I work harder and more hours than I ever did as an attorney but I love it and I wouldn’t go back.
Lois: You have to always look for new things. Our core group of customers want to see new things every time they come in.
Catherine Bennett: CAT’S MEOW PERSONALIZED GIFT BOUTIQUE
OWNER SINCE: 2007
How did you get started in the business?
I’m from Kirkwood, Missouri and for 10 years prior to opening Cat’s Meow I had a home embroidery business. By the time I opened the shop, I had a good clientele base but I had no idea that the business would take off like it did. When we first opened we had only half of the space. When the other half became available within a year we purchased that in 2008.
As the business grew I just trusted my gut. I could only handle so many custom orders at once, and many customers wanted gifts that they could walk out the door with, so we started bringing in candles and jewelry that I found at market. The shop has evolved from there, and as I look back, it’s amazing how much we underestimated how well the store would do.
How did you come up with the name?
When I was growing up everyone called me Cat, so the shop’s name is derived from that. I named the store Cat’s Meow because the term means “the best,” even though people often think it’s a cat themed store.
What is the favorite part of your job?
I love sourcing new and innovative things for the shop and then seeing them sell. I also feel incredibly lucky to be working with the best people. I think one of my greatest assets is my amazing staff, three of whom have been with me since the beginning.
Did you have doubts about moving to a new location?
I went back and forth, but in the end, it was a leap of faith. We wanted to grow and add new items but we couldn’t do it in the other location. There just wasn’t room. The move has been a great decision because we’ve been rockin’ it since day one. I think people feel more comfortable to spread out and shop. The expanded space has given us the chance to add more clothing, handbags and new items such as the custom laser engraved merchandise.
Tell us about your collaboration with catstudio for their St. Louis design.
We started carrying catstudio merchandise a couple of years ago and asked them to do a Saint Louis pillow. They said they had a preliminary sketch but hadn’t finalized everything. They sent me their preliminary design and I realized that they didn’t highlight the things that Saint Louis locals know and love. Anyone can go online and research a city but unless they talk to a local, they won’t get the full picture. Their design didn’t feature The Hill, Ted Drewes, The City Museum or the image of a fleur de lis. They also didn’t have a recognizable icon for the zoo or any representation of the St. Louis Cardinals. Their design focused more on riverboats and the blues and they still had the old football stadium on there. I offered to help them with the design so we went back and forth and finally came up with the finalized product. (see below)
What would you do if you didn’t have a shop:
I’d be doing sales. That’s where my comfort zone is, but really, this is my dream come true. If 20 years ago someone had told me that I was going to have a big shop and sell clothing, I’m not sure I’d have believed it.
What are you most excited about in the shop?
It’s hard for me to say because we have added so many amazing things with our bigger location. But if it came down to one thing, I guess I’m most excited about our new laser engraved products. I did a lot of research on this process and realized that we could do so many customized things with it. We laser engrave picture frames, drink tumblers, decorative serving trays and we cut lights featuring all the Sororities for back to school. The process works on all kinds of surfaces such as wood, plastic, glass and metal and the finished product is amazing.
What is your demographic?
We have everything from the monogrammed, preppy look to the camo, trendy look. Originally, I thought we had to have a defined style in the shop, but then I realized that some days I want to wear the pink, preppy look and other days I want to wear the hip, trendy look. I think many of our customers are the same. Our demographic is for all walks of life. We have gifts for every age and special occasion.
How do you combat online shopping?
We do ship items, and we’d like to do more online with our site, but we hope that people realize the positive impact a small business has on it’s community. From hiring local people to donating to local causes, small businesses give back. I don’t think a whole lot of those online places are donating to our local charities. Additionally, when you order a personalized item online, you never know what you are going to get. I’ve had so many people come in disappointed with the quality of the items they’ve received online. A lot of people think that monogramming is a simple machine where you just push a button. There are so many variations that come in to play with fabric, color and fonts that may not work well for what someone wants. We take the time to guide our customers through the design process because we want our customers to be happy with our finished product.
What advice would you give anyone wanting to own a boutique?
I think you have to trust your gut. When you start second guessing yourself you’ll start making more mistakes.
Tamara Netsch: SHINE BOUTIQUE
OWNER SINCE: May 31st, 2016
Have you always loved fashion?
My mom and dad both love fashion and each has inspired me in different ways. My mom really loves jewelry which is why I gravitate to jewelry and accessories first. I’d go through her jewelry boxes when I was little. She had a non-traditional style that I consider very gypsy-bohemian. She was very much her own person which I appreciate more today than back then. She’d discover these obscure pop-up places and flea markets and we’d dig through and find amazing things.
My dad was a shopper and very into fashion. I remember him telling me that someday I’d become a buyer. At the time, I didn’t know what that meant, so when he explained it to me I thought, yes I’d like to do that!
How did you get started in the business?
When I was fifteen Melanie Bascom (owner of the former Melanie’s Boutique) hired me to work in her Columbia, Missouri shop. I grew up in Columbia and she had a boutique there in addition to the one in Frontenac. I eventually moved to St. Louis and worked in her store here. When I moved to Minnesota with my husband, Melanie referred me to the owner of a local shop that had four locations and had been in business for over sixty years. I worked at that shop for fourteen years as the apparel and accessories buyer and learned a lot about the business during that time.
When Melanie decided to retire she contacted me and asked if I’d take over her shop. Being a shop owner was my dream, so my husband and I decided to move along with our daughter back to St. Louis and work for her during the transition. I didn’t end up buying Melanie’s and I had to quickly switch gears and come up with a plan B. I’d been looking at the space where my shop is currently to move Melanie’s so this is how Shine came about.
The customers of Melanie’s knew me as the person who was taking over the shop, so when it closed and I opened, there was some confusion. I’ve had to work really hard to be true to Shine but not disappoint the customers that we’ve gained from Melanie’s.
I’m incredibly grateful that the wonderful women who worked at Melanie’s are now working at Shine with me. I’ve known these ladies for most of my life, so I really trust them. The were invaluable during the transition.
What is the idea behind the name Shine?
Because of the change in situation, I had to act fast. Coming up with a name is like getting a tattoo. You really want to think it through before you do it. Unfortunately I didn’t have the luxury of time, but the name Shine kept coming back to me in my head. It was important that the name had a positive vibe and it worked because when you feel good, you shine!
What is the favorite part of your job?
When we first moved here my preteen daughter said, “Mom, you are doing your dream job!” but I don’t think I would have opened my own shop had I not been pushed by the turn of events with Melanie’s. My favorite part is definitely working with customers. You really get to know people when they shop with you and I’m definitely a people person.
What are you most excited about with Shine?
The store has been evolving since we opened. I like to think that we have something for everyone with a mix of price points and styles. Right now I’m most excited about the pop-ups that we’ve had to showcase local designers. It’s a win-win because we are supporting each other. The trunk shows keep things new and fresh in the store. They give me a great read on what people like and what will sell. We’ve gotten to test market several of our new lines this way. Our trunk show with Mark Jenkins Footwear was so successful that we now carry this local brand in the store!
What is your style?
A little bohemian and little gypsy.
What would you be doing if you didn’t own the shop?
I’d still be in retail because I love it and I love working with people. Maybe I’d stand outside dressing rooms and hold people’s babies while they try on clothes and give them style advice. I guess my title would be “babysitter stylist”.
What is your advice for anyone wanting to open up a boutique?
Even though I’ve worked in retail for most of my life, it’s such a different animal when it’s your own. I think it’s important to get to know your customers in order to understand what they want. Keep your head up, because there will be bad days. Be open to change and be prepared to evolve and grow, all while staying true to who you are as a store.
Sue McCarthy, Diana Ford & Laura Maurice:
The Vault ownership is comprised of Sue McCarthy and her two daughters, Diana Ford and Laura Maurice. We sat down with Diana to find out a little more about this fashionably local team.
How is the family dynamic with you three working together?
We have fun working together, but when we are at the shop, we are so busy that we don’t often have a lot of time to interact. People are surprised to find out that we socialize outside of work all the time. Our families take vacations together and we often have dinner together.
The three of us have very different styles, which is a good thing. We are surrounded by fabulous things every day and we never argue or compete for them. Laura recently called me from a closet buyout and said, “There is the most amazing bag here, but, damn it, it’s more your style!”
Do you each have a different role within the business?
My sister, Laura, is our chief curator and also heads up our social media. She works with our out of town customers and celebrities who have things to sell. She researches what they have and if it’s worth the trip to secure it. She is the brand expert and knows the latest and greatest that the top brands have to offer.
I (Diana) am in charge of marketing and events. When we opened this new store, one of our goals was to have an event space to host events and give back to the community. The upper level transforms into a fabulous space for things like fashion shows and parties. Ninety per- cent of what I do is plan our events. I also organize shopping trips a couple of times a year.
Sue is the boss lady. She takes care of finances and the big picture. Whatever direction she wants the business to go is always the right one.
What is the oldest piece of clothing that you own?
I call it the “rib breaker.” It’s a velvet Yves Saint Laurent top that I bought in Paris a long time ago. It’s called a rib breaker because I’d have to break a few ribs to wear it again. It’s just so pretty that I’ll never get rid of it.
All three of us are purgers by nature so we never hold on to our things. We know there is something better just around the corner.
How often do you change handbags?
Maybe once every six months. Seriously, I just don’t have time to think about it! (Yes, reader, you ARE thinking what we’re thinking. OMG!)
Favorite designer currently?
It used to be Chanel but now it’s Gucci. Gucci is just so edgy, hot and retro. I also love the Nancy Gonzalez crocodile bags which are understated and gorgeous. Laura has always been a big fan of Gucci. My mom loves Chanel but carries a Tumi bag every day. She wants her hands free and prioritizes comfort because she travels so much.
What is the favorite part of your job?
It’s like Christmas every day! We never know what’s going to walk through that door. It could be an “it” handbag that is on a huge wait list, or the hottest vintage Gucci tote. It’s something cool every day! That never gets old!
What advice would you give someone wanting to open a boutique?
You have to have a passion for it. You have to be ready to work really hard.
If you weren’t doing this what would you be doing?
Traveling. I will work for travel. I used to work for Maritz Corporation so traveling is in my blood.
Laura would be a fantastic food critic if she wasn’t doing this. Her Instagram feed is filled with her amazing food experiences.
Sue will always be an entrepreneur. She’s the Dali Lama of business ideas.
How do people find The Vault Luxury Resale?
Word of Mouth. That’s how we’ve acquired most of our business, particularly in New York, because our existing customers refer us to their friends. It’s all about trust. We are trying to get that same momentum in Nashville. There are so many great closets in Nashville!
We also started Facebook Live about a year ago on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2 pm central and the exposure has been amazing. Gucci is following us along with stylists from LA! These bi-weekly live posts have majorly increased our sales and acquisitions.
Tell us about the Chalkboard of Local Charities on the wall:
We host several events for charitable organizations at The Vault Luxury Resale. We underwrite the costs of food, drink, valet parking and also donate 10% of sales back to them for the evening. Last season we did nineteen private events and we already have sixteen upcoming events on the calendar. In just four years we’ve given over $100,000 back to the community.
Recently, Sue and I visited Operation Food Search. They are in dire need of funds during summer break because they are feeding kids that aren’t getting meals at school. We wanted to help out so we’ve been donating the proceeds from the sale of every 5th or 6th bag to the organization.
On July 19th we announced on Facebook Live that we’ll be raffling off a 2015, classic, Chanel handbag to a lucky winner who buys a Golden Ticket from us. Tickets are $100 each and ticket sales will be limited. Our goal is to raise $100,000 for Operation Food Search. The winner will be announced on October 20th!
Good, Better Best and beyond!
The book, Good Better Best, just released this past spring is about owner Sue McCarthy’s life. It is a fascinating read and will be officially launched at the shop in early August. The Vault Luxury Resale hosts about two to three public events each season. Look for one this fall with the perfect combination of fashion and food trucks. To find out more, follow The Vault Luxury Resale on Facebook and Instagram.
RACHEL SAUTER: LEOPARD
OWNER SINCE: October, 2012
What made you decide to open your own shop?
I’ve worked in retail from the time I turned sixteen but I guess it all started when I was growing up. My favorite thing was playing “store” in my mom’s closet. My first job in retail during high school was at Plato’s Closet where I became familiar with clothing brands. I knew I wanted to stay in fashion so I studied fashion merchandising in Los Angeles and Chicago and later managed a store in Columbia, Missouri called Britches while my husband was in Law School. The store owner taught me so much about owning a boutique.
I had several goals in mind when I decided to open up my own shop. I wanted it to be for women of all ages and walks of life, to have excellent customer service, and prices that wouldn’t break the bank. From there, Leopard was born.
Shortly after, when I had my first child, I discovered that finding a work, life balance was difficult and something I had to learn. Then in May 2015, when I was expecting my second daughter, we opened our second store in St. Charles. The location was perfect and we had staff who wanted to work more hours than we could offer at the one shop, so it was a natural step for us. For a small business owner, this is a rare thing! I am so grateful for the wonderful, dedicated people who work at Leopard.
What is your favorite thing about owning a boutique?
I love the relationships that I’ve built. I’ve met so many inspiring, amazing people that walk through my door. My customers have a million other places where they could shop so I’m incredibly grateful that they choose to support Leopard. I’ll never take this for granted!
What is next for Leopard?
We are excited because our Webster Groves store is about to get remodeled! We also just started a Leopard blog that has gotten great feedback from our customers and we recently launched our “modeling moms” social media program. We wanted Leopard’s social media to better reflect our customer base so we decided what better way than to highlight them as models. We style customers who want to participate, photograph them and put them in our Instagram and Facebook posts. It’s really been amazing! We love showing how fabulous our customers look in the clothes.
What is your favorite thing in the store?
I think our Level 99 jeans are my favorite thing. They fit amazing and we carry so many styles and washes. (See below).
What advice would you give someone wanting to open a boutique?
I think a person should work in retail before opening their own boutique. It’s important to have an understanding of the hours and the customer service. As a boutique owner you’ll have to be there working in the shop and getting to know your customers to be successful.
What would you be doing if you didn’t own a shop?
I’d be a personal grocery shopper. I love grocery stores! I look at grocery shopping much like regular shopping. I like to mix it up. If I’m not at home or at Leopard you can probably find me at the grocery store. I shop Lucky’s, Aldi’s, Dierbergs, Schnucks, Whole Foods, Straubs, you name it, I’m there!
LIA GLYNIAS: LAUNCH
OWNER SINCE: June 13, 2016
What is the concept behind the name LAUNCH?
The name LAUNCH is inspired from the transitions we all go through in life. Personal style is very connected to lifestyle changes. I don’t want to overstate what fashion can do but I believe that you can really elevate your life if you spend an extra five minutes thinking about what you are going to wear each day. A good first impression can really help launch a person.
Tell us about “LAUNCH Style”?
We are a European focused boutique, but we certainly don’t just carry European lines. It’s more of a European style point of view. It’s about standing out rather than fitting in. Of course, there is a spectrum for this because there are ways to stand out by putting on something chic and simple, or by putting on something that is quite different from what everyone is used to. You can step out a little or you can step out a lot, but it’s definitely about stepping out. Our top line is Alembika, designed and produced in Israel. This fabulous designer really knows how to make clothes to fit a woman’s body.
What is LAUNCH’S Demographic?
It’s not about age at LAUNCH. I just dressed someone who is going to be a freshman in high school and my very best customer is 89 years old. Typically though, the majority of my customers are going through a lifestyle change and are comfortable trying new looks. They tend to be about sixty years old, are well traveled, and comfortable with their style. They believe that self-care is more important than the “beauty is pain” mentality.
What made you open your own boutique?
I grew up in St. Louis and worked as a designer, but I have been in the fashion industry since I was a teenager working retail. I guess my biggest inspiration came from when I worked for about eight years as the sales director for an importing company out of New York. I sold to big stores on the east and west coast but most of our customers at market were little, independent shops from places in between the coasts. They were owned by smart women who had experience like mine. I sold our European collections to these ladies but I also got the opportunity to source new lines from Europe. It really opened up my eyes to how other people dress. People would always tell me that I should open up my own store but I never wanted to commit. After several years, I had a pretty good picture of how things worked, so I began to think that I’d like to open up my own business. I took a class, started a business plan, and then life took me to this street (Marconi on the Hill) and I saw that SKIF International had a space for rent. I’d worked with many of the designers from SKIF previously so all those things came together for me and here I am!
Have you always loved fashion?
I’ve always loved style. This included make-up, accessories and dressing up. I was a theater kid and I liked to stand out. In my sophomore year high school photo I added a little scarf around my neck because I knew no one else would. I loved performing on stage and playing music. I still play my guitar and sing. My favorite thing to do is to sit on my front porch with my guitar and sing with anyone who wants to. I can sing with you both! I’m not kidding. Let’s do it!
What is the favorite part of your job?
I love dressing people! It’s fun to have my customers come in and play dress up! I like to experiment with different looks and put two pieces together that don’t necessarily go. Sometime the look flops but sometimes it’s awesome!
I also love to do events here and am always open to it. We did the Feminine Cartel fashion show last year with models, catering, designers and plan to do it again in October. It’s a shopping event for women who want to be the first to buy the best. We showcase labels from women all over.
What is your advice for anyone wanting to start a boutique?
If you put a good forty hours a week in anywhere you’ll start to see the benefits. If you keep at it your efforts will pay off because work done well isn’t wasted. The women who survive in this business work their sales floor. There are no shortcuts. You have to be here to know your customers and how the clothes look on them.
SUSAN BLOCK: THE DESIGNING BLOCK
OWNER SINCE: June 6, 1996
The Designing Block has been a fixture on Clayton Road for the last twenty two years, but on June 30th, owner Susan Block will take her shop in a new direction. We sat down with Susan to take a look back and to find out what’s in store for her.
How did idea of The Designing Block come about?
Prior to opening the shop, I’d been doing interior design for about 16 years . I was looking at the Clayton Road space with a friend who wanted to open an antique store. They decided against it but I thought, why don’t I buy the building and open a store myself? I called my husband, who was out of town at the time, and told him my idea. He thought I was crazy! I had no business plan and no idea what I was going to sell, but things just kind of fell into place. The shop just celebrated twenty two years on June 6th!
What is next for you?
I make my decisions with gut feelings just like when I opened the shop. Recently my accountant decided to retire and asked me when I planned to retire. Without much thought, I said, June 30th. It was a gut feeling! Really it’s more of a semi-retirement and my vision for the shop is ongoing. It will be open by appointment only but I’ll continue to do interior design and sell some home accents.
I’ll also be using it as a studio to paint because I’ve wanted to be a painter from the time I was little. I have a degree in fine arts and have been taking more painting classes. I like to paint abstracts with both oil and acrylic, but recently I’ve taken up watercolors. I really enjoy being creative and my creativity is a process, not limited to one direction. I like to keep my thoughts fluid when I work because things change and another idea may make the piece even better.
My husband Terry and I are also opening a boutique hotel in Salyulita, Mexico. Both of our children have boutique hotels right on the water there. Ours will have about twenty to thirty rooms and I’ll be working on renovating and decorating that.
Susan’s work below: from top left is a three dimensional totem, top right, watercolor hummingbird, bottom two pieces are acrylic abstract on wrapped canvas.
What is your favorite memory from the shop?
A highlight for me was when I spent two days with Iris Apfel while she was in town for the Fashion Fund event. I picked her up from the airport, shuttled her around town and she visited the shop! It was amazing to have one on one time with this amazing fashion icon!
We know that you have supported many charitable organizations. Tell us about some of them.
I’ve done work for about sixty-one charitable organizations in St. Louis over the years. One year I chaired eleven events and kept getting them confused! I have two organizations that I’m most passionate about. First is the St. Louis Zoo. I worked on my first Zoofari in 1979 and I’ve only missed two since then.
I’m also a co-founder of the Spirit of St. Louis Women’s Fund which is a collective, giving organization with over 250 members. Each year members donate $1200 and the money collected is used to award grands to non-for-profits that operate under a million dollars. So far we’ve given 2.5 million dollars to the metropolitan area without having any fundraisers! The impact this organization has to change lives is mind boggling! The grants have kept several amazing organizations stay in business and have changed so many lives. The beauty is that we are all equal in our giving so everyone has the same investment and everyone can nominate an organization. We’ve all learned so much about different charities that we’d never had heard of. With this platform the organizations not only get donations but also potential volunteers. It’s brilliant!
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to open a local boutique?
You have to realize that you’ll be giving up a lot of things like vacation and personal time because you have to invest a large amount of your time in your business. In addition, the whole face of retail has changed because people can find anything online. You have to offer an experience and if you can find suppliers that offer lines that can’t be sold online that’s a plus. It also helps to be savvy with social media.
What is the oldest piece of clothing or accessory that you own?
Almost everything that I own has sentimental value. I keep things as long as possible. I especially love accessories and I have rings from my childhood because my grandparents never gave us trinkets. They wanted to give us keepsakes.
What is one thing people don’t know about you?
I’m a collector and “the queen of eclecticism” but everyone knows this. I guess maybe it’s that I’ve had two life goals since I was very young. One is to be a woman of achievement and the second is to have a painting in a museum.
Looking at Susan’s amazing life we believe she can check off #1, and after seeing her creative work, we have a very good feeling about #2!
IRENE DORANTES: LIJ BOUTIQUE AND HAIR SALON
OWNER SINCE: May 2013
JoAnn Lanigan has been the manager of LIJ Boutique since November 2016. This past year JoAnn has taken on a much larger role to keep the shop open for owner, Irene Dorantes, who is currently battling Stage 4 ovarian cancer. While Irene is unable to work at the shop, she still does much of the back office work from home.
In the four years that we’ve known Irene we’ve learned what an amazing woman she is. She is a positive force, full of zest for life and always willing to help others. She has the kindest heart, is incredibly optimistic, and loves to work with people. She would give the shirt off her back to anyone and then ask what more she could do to help. With this in mind, we asked JoAnn how we can best support Irene.
JoAnn, how can we show support for Irene?
Irene loves her shop and wants it to thrive in her absence. She has her phone connected to the register so her phone pings when she gets a sale. She gets so excited and sends me a smiley emoji every time a sale goes through. So really the best way to show support for Irene is to shop at LIJ Boutique.
Has working with Irene changed your fashion mindset?
I owned a consignment store for about ten years but my style was very conservative and tailored. My background is in accounting, and before this year, I just did the shop’s inventory. I was able to free Irene up to do her creative thing because she’s great at playing with the clothing.
Irene eventually pulled me out of my conservative box and still inspires me to try looks that I never would have worn. She has a very feminine style that is evident in the shop’s French Country chic vibe. LIJ offers clothing, jewelry, gifts and home decor.
What is your favorite item in the store?
Our floral items and modified cold shoulder items are my favorite. We have adorable summer dresses that look great on anyone!
Tell us about LIJ Boutique and its “Irenian” Style:
LIJ Boutique has evolved over the years. Irene loves girly pieces so there used to be a lot of items with lace and ruffles in the store. The shop’s overall vibe is still very Irene (or “Irenian” which is the clever name coined by Ann-Marie) but we now also have amazing foundation pieces like the M.Rena line that is always in stock, cute basic shirts, leggings, plus size pieces, jewelry and home decor. You can also find LIJ items at Fleur De Chic on Baxter Road across from the Chesterfield Antique Mall.
HOW CAN YOU SHOW YOUR SUPPORT FOR IRENE:
BoutiqueNAV is all about supporting local, which is why we found a kindred soul in LIJ Boutique’s owner, Irene Dorantes. This amazing, fashionably local woman is always looking for ways to show support for her community, so we hope you’ll join us in supporting her. The best way to do this is to stop by LIJ, say hello to JoAnn, and tell her that you are thinking about Irene. You just may find the perfect thing to take home. If so, you made Irene’s phone ping, put a smile on her face and helped JoAnn earn a smiley emoji in return. (All this and you didn’t have to give a mouse a cookie.)
ALYSON GARLAND: DOTDOTDASH BOUTIQUE
OWNER SINCE: May 2008
What made you decide to open your shop?
I’ve always loved and understood the retail business and was a merchandiser for a family shoe company. Prior to opening my shop, I started designing soft, comfortable, children’s wear that had French and Spanish phrases on them with corresponding pictures so children could learn phrases in those languages. I started selling them through trunk shows to test market the idea.
I have three boys, currently ages nine to nineteen. When my youngest entered Kindergarten, I rented a tiny space near my neighborhood in De Mun and filled it with soft, comfortable, casual pieces that I found at market in New York. We carried about five simple styles of sweatpants, comfortable T-shirts and wraps for women in several colors along with my line for kids. The name DotDotDash came about as a collaboration with a graphic designer that I was working with. We threw some names around and that one stuck. It turned out to be serendipitous because I later found out that it spells the letter “U” in Morse code. When you walk into my shop, I want it to be all about YOU. Over the years it’s evolved into more of a women’s clothing store. Two years ago we moved just around the corner from our original store into our larger space right off of De Mun Avenue.
Oldest pieces of clothing that you still own:
I still have a few wraps and sweatpants from lines that I carried at the original store. People always ask me to start carrying them again because they were such great sellers.
Favorite items in the store:
The Roberta Roller Rabbit line is perfect for summer (as seen on Ann-Marie and Alyson below). The line washes great and always looks amazing.
I also love the Rosemunde line from Denmark and the Lola and Sophie shirts.
Best Part of being a store owner:
The community of people that have become my customers are like family to me. We love our customers and the neighborhood feeling here in the De Mun area.
Favorite destination to shop:
I love Intermix for their variety and I adore Barney’s New York for their inspiration and real street style. They also have a great eye for emerging designers.
Advice for any future shop owner:
Start small and sample your product before you open a store. It’s best to have an established customer base and grow from there.
JANE EPSTEIN LAVEY: GIDDYUP JANE
OWNER SINCE: April 2009
What made you decide to open your shop?
After earning my law degree I worked for my family’s business. During that time, I began creating custom, western, belt buckles. I established quite a customer base that included many celebrity musicians. Eventually, people began asking if I had other chic, western items to pair with the buckles. I realized that there was a need, and I had always wanted to open a store with a western theme. I started small by renting a corner space in my friend, Margaret Spooner’s, shop in Ladue called MACS Designs. Eventually, the space next door became available so I bought it and opened up Giddyup Jane. After about two years MACS Designs moved down the street so I took over both spaces and we are still here at that same location.
Jane’s Go-To style:
I typically have on a fabulous pair of cowboy boots (I love Old Gringo) and a Johnny Was shirt with a pair of jeans. The cool mix of western and boho is classic and never goes out of style. It works anywhere and any time.
Favorite thing in the store:
The Johnny Was brand is a staple here and our new, superstar label is Xirena. (See both brands pictured below.) Xirena has the world’s best button down classic cotton, poplin shirts! We carry several colors which always sell out. They are soft, wash well and have a fabulous fit.
What’s the favorite part of your job:
I love to buy! When I go to market, I think of my customers and what they would like, not just what I want. But above all else, everything has to look cute with cowboy boots! I always keep this in mind, with just a few exceptions. This helps keep the Giddyup Jane brand consistent.
Giddyup Jane has styles that appeal to all ages, but we don’t necessarily target teens. We do have some trendy pieces but we carry mostly classic styles for women. We have amazing jewelry, like the Tat2 line, great handbags in vegan and leather, and wonderful accessories. Although our vibe is chic western, we carry many great brands that aren’t necessarily western inspired. We carry staples that are always on “the top items that you should own” list such as, a denim jacket, a white button down blouse, cowboy boots and a great pair of jeans. You are never too old or too young to have these.
Favorite destination to shop:
When I travel I search out the local western inspired stores like mine. I also love shopping in Soho and the West Village in NYC. My inspiration for Giddyup Jane is a shop in Durango, Colorado called Eureka’s. I still visit when I travel there because I know the owner.
Advice you would give a person wanting to open a boutique:
You have to like people. If you don’t want to greet customers with a smile, talk to them, find out a little bit about them, and help them with the clothes, then this isn’t for you.
LORI ANN MALUGEN: PINK MAGNOLIA
OWNER SINCE: April 2006
What made you decide to open your shop?
I was a special education teacher but I’ve always loved the Lilly Pulitzer brand. This shop became available when my husband and I were looking for a small business that we could run as a family business. My husband was able to keep his other job and still be involved and my girls worked here all through high school and college. My daughters still do some of the back office work remotely because they no longer live in St. Louis.
What is your favorite thing in the shop?
The Gabby shift is one of my favorite pieces because it’s a style that flatters everyone, no matter what age or body shape. I also love the new romper style for Spring. It is adorable!
Is there a piece of clothing that you’ve kept through the years because you love it and can’t let it go?
Lilly Pulitzer used to do a patchwork pattern that was pieces of fabric sewn like a quilt. I’ve kept a Lilly patchwork skirt for about 25 years or so because I love it.
What is your favorite part of your job?
The shop makes people happy. It’s a little piece of sunshine in here – bright and cheery even when it’s not outside! I just love that!
How do you like being in the Ladue shopping district?
There is a great sense of camaraderie among the local shops here. We all work together, support each other and participate in events together. We’ve had this wonderful community of support from day one which is why we are still here. Our customers are incredibly loyal because they understand that we are a locally owned, family business. We strive to give back as much as possible, which is why we have the customer loyalty program, and we donate and participate in as many charity functions as possible. We love this community!
What advice would you give someone wanting to open a boutique?
You have to be all in. I’ve been devoted to this business for 11-1/2 years and, when I’m not in the store, I’m at home working on the store. I’ve seen a lot of businesses throughout the years that have come and gone and this is the most important key to success. I do have an amazing staff that has a sense of responsibility and ownership in the store which is also incredibly important.
DIANN BOSWORTH (Hand painted pieces) ~ PATTI PORTER (Florals) ~ CAROL TEMPLE (Interior Design)
OWNERS SINCE: April 2012
What made you decide to open your shop?
(Patti) I have a fashion merchandising degree but I didn’t pursue a design career until my kids were in school. At that time I started working for a floral designer in Springfield, IL who inspired me to work with florals. When I moved to St. Louis, I worked at Summer House, MKS Designs and Three French Hens. Finally I thought, I can do this as a business for myself.
(Carol) I was a teacher but decided to change my career path when my kids went to school. I took some interior design courses, started my own business and eventually went into business with Diann, who was a sorority sister of mine. I met Patti because I was one of her floral customers and introduced her to Diann and that’s how we all came together.
(Diann) I was also a teacher but started hand painting my signature black and white checked items on the side when my kids were in school. I’m inspired by MacKenzie-Childs and add my own signature look to my pieces. Eventually Carol and I started a business together painting slate roof tiles and then she introduced me to Patti.
How has a collaborative ownership worked? We all had businesses of our own and came together to blend all of our talents. Since we all bring something different to the business, we work well together. None of us would want to do it on our own because we like having each other to bounce ideas off of. We operate with a checks and balances system and it’s really worked in our favor. When one of us has an idea, we bring it to the table and receive different points of views. It’s stopped us from making several wrong turns along the way. We travel together and do things socially so we are friends as well as business partners. We think that’s important.
How did you decide to open in Kirkwood? We almost signed a lease on a different location and Carol said she was having second thoughts, so we didn’t go through with it. Carol is from Kirkwood and we all loved the neighborhood and the pedestrian friendly vibe so we settled on this location. It has been the best decision for us. We have such wonderful, loyal customers.
What is one thing in the shop that everyone should have in their home?
(Patti) An inviting door floral arrangement or wreath
(Carol) An fun animal print chair
(Diann) A home accent hand painted in black and white check
Advice you would give someone wanting to open a boutique: Figure out who your customer is going to be and find a location that pairs well with that customer. The shop should also have good vibes, and be a friendly place where people want to hang out.
ROSEMARY BARRY: HEELS BOUTIQUE
OPENED: April 2008
What made you decide to open your shop? I had my “A-hah” moment when I walked through the door of the first Heels Boutique in Chicago owned by my sister-in-law and four of her friends. I said, “This is what I want to do!” We looked for a year and a half for a good location and settled on Wildwood, MO. Originally the shop just carried shoes, handbags and jewelry but we kept adding more and more clothing as time went on. We celebrated ten years this April!
Have you always loved fashion? I’ve always loved fashion and was voted “best dressed” at school. I especially love shoes because when clothes don’t fit you can always get a new pair of shoes!
What is the oldest item of clothing that you own? I’ve had a pair of black, classic pumps for about 20 years.
Favorite thing in the shop? Our Mark Jenkins line of shoes! We could really just be a Mark Jenkins concept store because we sell so many pairs of his shoes!
Favorite part of your job? My customers. I just love all the people we’ve met that come shop with us. I really consider them friends.
Favorite destination to shop? When I’m on vacation, I really don’t shop, I relax.
The best advice you would give to someone wanting to open a boutique? Do your homework, assess the risks, but if you really want to do it – go for it! The most important thing is that you have to be present every day and in touch with your customers. If you decide to go for it you have to be all in!
LAURA RITCHIE: TLYNN’S BOUTIQUE
OWNER SINCE: December 2017
What made you decide to open your shop? It goes back to when the store (TLynn’s) was Meka. My daughter and I loved having a girls’ day out, complete with nails, shopping and lunch. When we visited the shop together we could always find styles that worked for both of us. We continued shopping there when Terri Lynn bought it and changed the name. I have always wanted to own a boutique. Several years ago there was a boutique for sale in Ladue, MO. My husband and I really considered it, but the children were small and the timing wasn’t right. In August of 2017, I meet Terri Lynn when we just happened to be at the same restaurant. We started talking and she was looking for a partner. I seized the opportunity and became her partner in September 2017. In December 2017 she decided to retire and I became TLynn’s sole owner. My theme for TLynn’s is a “Mother/Daughter Boutique” where mothers and daughters can enjoy a day out together and shop at a boutique where both can find fashionable clothes.
Have you always loved fashion? I have always loved fashion especially shoes and accessories.
What was your favorite piece of clothing when you were growing up? My favorite was probably my bell bottom jeans.
What is the oldest item of clothing that you own? A black dress that I bought after I had my daughter.
What is your favorite item in the store right now? A pair of merlot velvet sneakers with merlot satin laces.
What is the best part of your job? I’ve always enjoyed working with people, which is why I went into nursing initially. I love working one on one with a customer, helping them pick out the right clothes and accessories for their style. I also really enjoy going to market to shop for the the new and upcoming styles.
What is your favorite boutique when you travel? B. Williams is a boutique down the street from my daughter in Brentwood, California. I love shopping there because I get to spend time with my daughter and do our two favorite things which are shopping and lunch!
Advice you would give someone wanting to open a boutique. There will be good days and bad days, good seasons and slow ones. It’s important to be patient and try anything. Just because it doesn’t work for one person doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. Don’t buy clothes just because you like them, and remember to keep in mind that there are more sizes than extra small. Owners should always be present at the store because customers really want to see and interact with them. Support other boutiques and, lastly, the customer is always right.
SUE WICKENHAUSER: THE FINAL TOUCH
OPENED: April 2017
What made you decide to open your shop? I’ve been in retail my entire life but my husband and I opened our very first store in Union Station called Logos and Labels, which was the last to close when all the stores left. Eventually, I missed the interaction with customers and the merchandise, so we opened the first Final Touch location a few years ago and moved it to this new location last year.
Have you always loved fashion? I’ve always loved shoes and home decor. One of my favorite things is changing my house up and redecorating for each season.
What is the oldest item of clothing that you own? Back in high school I bought a leather belt that I paid $110 for, which was very expensive back then. I wore it and loved it so much that I saved it and both of my daughters wore it. I added it to one of my outfits not that long ago.
One thing in the store that everyone should have in their home: Fragrance whether it be a difuser or a candle with a scent that suits your individual taste.
What is the best part of your job? I love working with customers but I also really enjoy designing the displays in my store. My favorite thing is configuring all the merchandise in the most creative way.
Favorite destination city to shop? Chicago is a great city for shopping and I like places in the south, like Destin and Naples, Florida as well as Charleston, South Carolina.
Advice you would give someone wanting to open a boutique. You really have to enjoy working with people and have good customer service skills. You also have to have creative vision to help customers put things together, whether it be an outfit or decorating their home.
KRISTIN MAYER: THE SPOTTED PIG
OPENED: November 3, 2016
What made you decide to open your shop? I opened my shop because I really wanted to bring to St.Louis an eclectic mix of my different acquired styles. I wanted to share my passion of finding unique one of kind gifts that come from all over. It has always been a dream of mine to put all the mix of styles I have into one place. For the St. Louis customer to be able to learn to decorate their lives and home exactly how they want, free!
One thing in your shop that everyone should have in their home: Some sort of a pig! Whatever it is, from a picture to a statue to a trinket tray, I promise, it will make you smile!
RACHEL FORST: RACHEL’S GROVE
OPENED: March 7th, 2015
What made you decide to open your shop? My sister and nieces had talked about opening a women’s clothing boutique for several years. When my oldest headed off to college, the time seemed right. It was a boutique or law school. We picked a boutique!
Have you always loved fashion? I’ve always been interested in what my friends and family were wearing, but with a twist. For example, one of my sorority formal dresses in college was an off-the-shoulder dress like everyone else was wearing, but mine was in a gorgeous royal blue and white print with the off-shoulder ruffle done in the contrasting white and royal blue print. I did not look like everyone else!
What was your favorite piece of clothing when you were growing up? A tee shirt that said, “Here comes trouble!”
What is the oldest item of clothing that you own? I still own the dress that I wore to our wedding rehearsal dinner. We got married in Orlando, where I am from. My husband’s parents hosted a luau at my mother’s home. The dress is a deep kelly green with fuchsia and gold crabs on it. It was fun and casual, very Florida, and set the right tone for our event. It doesn’t fit me anymore, but I can’t bear to throw it out!
Favorite item of clothing your currently own: Any of my Jude Connally dresses. They are colorful and easy to wear. They don’t wrinkle and are machine washable.
What is your favorite item in the store right now? My favorite item in the shop right now is the Southcott Indian Summer tee in coral. It’s made from the softest bamboo, is long-sleeved, has front seem detailing, and is a high-low top. It looks great with white jeans or navy pants.
What is the best part of your job? I love watching customers come out of the dressing room when they’ve found something they love. Their entire faces light up because they feel so good. That’s the first thing I look at when a customer asks my opinion, her face. What she’s wearing is secondary.
What is your favorite boutique when you travel? I don’t have a favorite boutique. I love them all!
Favorite destination city to shop? Charleston, South Carolina
Advice you would give someone wanting to open a boutique. Location, location, location!