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New Boutique Owners Design Their Future in Retail

Nichole Daley, Hanger Alley Boutique. Photo by Arianne Teeple
Nichole Daley, Hanger Alley Boutique. Photo by Arianne Teeple
Fashionista Nichole Daley used to throw shopping parties for a small group of friends. As her sales grew, she started shipping clothes out of her Silver Spring attic and then took to Baltimore’s streets.
“I began selling stuff at the HampdenFest and Eastern Market, and people were like, ‘where’s your store?’”
In November, she opened Hanger Alley in Fells Point -- a neighborhood she had grown fond of after eating at Annabel Lee Tavern every year on Edgar Allen Poe’s birthday. Her bohemian chic style of clothing seemed better suited for Baltimore compared with D.C., Daley says. 
“This style resonates in Baltimore where people are riskier and not as conservative.”
Daley is one of a handful of women who have opened trendy new boutiques in Baltimore within the past 18 months in an uncertain economic climate. With banks tight on lending, they relied on family and friends or their own savings to start their new ventures.
The business owners say they are armed with a strategy that will help them hang on by more than a thread. Keep prices low. Use social media to promote the heck out of the shop. Stay ahead of the fashion curve. Manage overhead expenses and your inventory. 

“It’s hard work, a matter of knowing their product and service, and standing behind the products that they sell,” says Jim Sidlowski, a volunteer counselor for the Greater Baltimore Service Corp. of Retired Executives. SCORE volunteers mentor budding entrepreneurs.
Still, it’s a risk. Small businesses have a 50 percent chance of making it through their first five years, according to payroll provider Intuit. About two dozen retail shops in Greater Baltimore have shuttered within the past year, says Mark Millman, a retail consultant and CEO of Millman Search Group Inc. in Owings Mills.
But statistics like these and a weak economy didn’t discourage Christie Griffiths and Kike Castillo from opening Brightside Boutique & Art Studio in Federal Hill last month.
Griffiths, who has worked for Nanette Lepore and Diane von Furstenberg, says she believes the key to staying afloat is to carry a wide array of goods.  She sells dresses, skirts, shoes, jewelry, shoes and even art.
Naturally, you have to keep ahead of the fashion trends and know what customers want, shop owners say. Linda Pfleiderer, co-owner of Hampden’s In the Details, heads to New York City  three times a year to bring back new threads, using her knowledge as an amateur seamstress to assess which affordable finds are worthy of the trip back to Baltimore.
Pfleiderer says she always had Hampden in mind for her store and seized the opportunity when she was walking towards Chestnut Ave. and saw boxes stacked up in Mud and Metal’s old location on 813 W. 36th Street.
She banks on stand-out pieces at frugal prices to stay in business. Modeling a cozy Monster Fleece one recent afternoon, Pfleiderer is enthusiastic to show customers her merchandise ranging from accessories made out of recycled wedding dresses and Canadian furs.
“You have to take fashion chances,” Pfleiderer. “Baltimoreans have a way of pulling off vintage, rock n’ roll, and conservative.”
Shop owners rely heavily on Twitter, Facebook and Yelp to offer discounts and promotions, which help them muddle through the slower weekday sales. Daley, a self-described “web nerd,” offers discounts and promotions through Twitter, Facebook, and Yelp, including champagne and cupcakes Friday nights and sneak peaks at new arrivals.
Relying on social media also allows store owners to respond more quickly to customers. Parkville’s Bliss Boutique introduced new shipments of everything from T-shirts to cocktail dresses in November in response to customer feedback, Owner Cyreeta Curbeam says.
Managing expenses is also key. Daley negotiated a month of free rent and a shorter-term lease with her landlord. She warns against undergoing extensive renovations on a tight budget. This is where Daley’s crafty side prevailed for designing her boutique for next to nothing. She uses electric spools cut in half and sanded to house jewelry and an old ladder as a scarf rack.
Items, which include an array of plus sizes, are capped off around $100 and come from designers like Ya Los Angeles, Kensie Girl, and Freeway Apparel that chain stores don’t carry.
Everyone is looking for a bargain these days so shop owners carrying higher-priced items have to be pretty sure the goods will sell, SCORE’s Sidlowski says.
Plfeiderer says knowing that everything is already paid for in the shop give her a sense of security. It’s still frustrating at times, facing the reality that she and her husband shifted from having two steady incomes to one in a slumping economy.
 Still, she has confidence that In the Details will survive past the honeymoon stage.
“If I had opened in 2003, it would’ve been challenging, but less scary,” Plfeiderer says. “I look at other boutiques with unique styles and think, if they made it, even in this economy, I can make it work somehow. If it’s good in the worst of times, it’ll be good in the best of times.”
Originally from Syracuse, New York, Jolene Carr moved to Baltimore for school, work and play. She has written for the Urbanite and Syracuse’s Table Hopping, which carried her restaurant and club reviews.


Photos by Arianne Teeple

Nichole Daley, Hanger Alley Boutique
Jewelry at Hanger Alley
The interior of Hanger Alley
Linda Pfleiderer, In the Details Boutique 
Jewelry at In the Details Boutique 
The interior of In the Details Boutique 
Cyreeta Curbeam, Bliss Boutique
Earrings at Bliss Boutique
The interior of Bliss Boutique

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