When I was younger, perhaps high school age, my mom and I took a shopping trip to the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City. Some of her favorite stores were still there and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Mommy loved the old fashioned stores that had lovely rugs, served tea while you shopped and had huge powder rooms with soft upholstered furniture. After that shopping trip with her, I fell in love with that style of retail shopping experience too.
I don’t keep up with economic indicators, vis-à-vis the impact of unemployment and recession to privately-owned retailers.
However, in 2008, I started noticing some changes.
One particular day, shortly after Thanksgiving, I was doing some Christmas shopping and visited a couple of well established clothing boutiques in Houston. At Kathryn Risley’s shop I noticed that the inventory appeared very sparse, particularly given the time of year. However, I was fortunate enough to find a lovely top for my mom, on a mark-down rack, so I made my purchase and counted my blessings. Earlier that day, at Etui, another favorite just down the street, I had overheard one of the staff members at the shop telling a customer that they hadn’t observed any change to their customer’s spending habits, despite all the reports of economic doom and gloom.
Etui is located in an upscale urban neighborhood, but their merchandise is very reasonably priced. Well, not priced like TJ Maxx, but you know, not like the privately owned boutiques on Chicago’s famed Oak Street either.
It sounded like their client base was loyal enough and financially secure enough to continue spending money on clothing and accessories.
I was relieved to hear this news. While I’m certainly far from an avid shopper, I love pretty clothing and accessories and love knowing that there are a few places where I am confident I can locate completely unique, quality garments in a comfortable, but stimulating atmosphere at a price point that works within my budget.
Elizabeth’s Boutique in The Woodlands falls in this category too. I had been fortunate enough to time my last couple of visits to this lovely store to take advantage of an after-season clearance. But new inventory was still plentiful. My optimism remained high. These boutiques gave me the same feeling of that shopping experience with my mom some 30 years ago.
Kathryn Risley sent an email in early spring 2009, saying that she had closed her store and was launching a new fashion venture in an online space.
Six or seven months later, I received an email from Etui indicating that they were announcing a new fashion partner that was going to share their retail space. Hmmm. It didn’t lure me in, but I was hopeful their resourcefulness would carry them through the apparent financial difficulties creeping into even these businesses with a “loyal” customer base.
About four weeks ago, I noticed a “Sale” banner at Elizabeth’s Boutique indicating they were going out of business.
Then today another email arrived from Etui. They are closing their doors after almost 30 years.
I have to admit, it bothers me. I don’t know if shopping at independent retailers has been largely replaced by shopping online. Perhaps Kathryn Risley knows. Perhaps permanent changes in human behavior have been established, driven by technology, fuel cost and basic economics.
But on the eve of Mother’s Day, this news has extinguished the possibility of participating in an experience that always made me feel like my mother’s daughter.