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Boutiques popular in the Boro
Independent retailers find success in a big box world of fashion
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Clothing boutique Runway gears up for the holidays. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
      To be an independent retailer of women's fashion today requires an astute eye and a vision. Competing with big box retailers in a down economy isn't easy when you don't have a huge marketing budget or the buying clout that comes with stocking several large department stores.
       Local boutiques have figured out where their niche is, and have doggedly pursued the development of a loyal clientele.
       "I think there are a number of very good independent retailers in Statesboro," said Sherry Pope, owner of the Cobbler's Bench. "We are blessed to have as many as we have."
       Pope opened the Cobbler's Bench on South Main Street 27 years ago, and with the exception of a brief hiatus recently to remodel, she has been operating in that same location ever since.
       "You have to look for a void in the marketplace to fill, and I think we have done that," she said. "Originally we opened as a full service shoe store and then expanded into clothing. We are still a full service shoe store, with narrow sizes I may add, but have remodeled and changed our direction where clothing is concerned."
       Pope said several years ago she noticed that there really didn't seem to be clothing geared towards women who wanted to be trendy, but not look like their teenage/college aged children or look older than they are.
       "Women in their 30's, 40's, and 50's want a contemporary, trendy look that is still age appropriate," Pope said. "I started looking around and digging, and finally had to join a buying office in New York to find this look and type of clothing. It took a lot of work, but I think it will be worth it. I think we have found very fashionable clothing, and at a very reasonable price. Nothing in our newly opened store was here before. Everything is new."
       Laura Lanier's boutique Runway opened in the Market District in 2007 with one key piece of clothing as its centerpiece.
       "I felt like blue jeans had evolved to become a very important piece of a woman's wardrobe," she said. "With the exception of a formal type of an affair, a very nice pair of blue jeans can be worn just about anywhere if accessorized the right way. That is why we have such a large selection of really, really nice blue jeans."
       Lanier said she knew that she and friends treated a great pair of blue jeans like an investment, and that is where she got the premise for her store.
       "Purposefully, our blouses, shoes, and accessories aren't as expensive as the jeans, but with a great pair of jeans, you don't have to go out and spend a ton of money to find something to go with them," she said. "We provide all of that, and we really focus on customer service."
Lanier said to buy jeans is as difficult for some women as buying a bathing suit in that you have to find the pair that fits you just so, and that can take some time.
       "We want you to come in and allow us to help you find that perfect pair of jeans, or a perfect blouse or dress, or pocket book," she said. "It is important to love your purchases and to know that you feel great when you wear them. We have size 00 to size 16. Give us 30 minutes, and we will help you find a great pair of jeans. We aren't just a college student store, we are here for everybody."
       Paula Williams has been in the women's retail clothing business for over 20 years. As the owner of Threads located on Savannah Avenue, Williams has learned that adjusting to the marketplace and developing a dedicated fan base is critical to success.
       "We have a steady clientele that expects us to keep things fresh and in style," she said. "If something doesn't sell, we move it on out, and bring something new in. Also with the economy the way it is, we have really made a big effort to lower our price point, and find things that our customers will still love, but things that aren't as expensive. We have been able to do that, and the response has been great."
       Local boutique Bella Bikinis and Clothing has also adjusted to meet this marketplace. "When we originally opened, we just had bathing suits," said Courtney Greenway, the store's manager. "But we quickly realized that we needed to have inventory that would sell year around, and we started to offer clothing. That has become a huge part of our business."
       Greenway said clothing has helped bridge the gap between seasons. "This is our fifth year, and we have had the best Fall that we have ever had," she said. "We are going to keep focusing on the clothing aspect of business."