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'Faith' opens Sola Fide in Statesboro
Boutique is a new direction for owners
Sola Fide SIGN
This distinctive wooden sign was made for Sola Fide by Wilbur Scott, an employee of Jeff Neal's other business, B&J Fire Protection. Seasonal boots have been hung below it with care. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

             Sola Fide, the name of the new boutique at 23 South Main St. in downtown Statesboro, means "by faith alone."
        Business partners Christin Owens and Jeff Neal have are also calling on their experiences in very different types of businesses and a network of talented family and friends to help them. Sola Fide opened Nov. 14. It sells all-new women's and children's clothing, shoes and costume jewelry and offers monogramming services.
        Neither Owens nor Neal has a background in clothing sales. Owens worked 23 years for the bank of Newington, where she was a loan officer, before going to work for Neal two years ago as office manager at B&J Fire Protection. He has owned and operated B&J, designing, fabricating and installing automatic fire sprinkler systems, since 1991. He moved his contracting business from near Rocky Ford in Screven County to a fabrication shop and office on Matthews Road in Statesboro, also about two years ago.
        A combination of interests in fire sprinklers and a women's boutique sounds strange, Neal admits.
        "I hear that all the time," he said. "‘Jeff, you're doing what?'"
        "What happened was, about six weeks ago I was in that building across the street," he said. "I was putting a fire sprinkler system in it, and was standing down there in the retail space looking around when I said, ‘You know, this would be a great place to have a business.'"
        He wasn't able to work out anything with the owners of that building, but across the street, No. 23 was available for lease. Meanwhile, he talked to Owens and told her he needed her help to launch a clothing store.
        She agreed to the venture, and they opened the boutique within five weeks after first talking about it.

Family help
        Two of Owens' key helpers are her daughters Kayla Odom and Delaney Odom.
        "Kayla is a little fashion diva. That's about all we had to go on. ...," Owens said. "She knew the styles and so she jumped in on that part, and my other daughter, Delaney, knows monogramming and so we got the monogramming machine and she's handling all that."
        Kayla, 20, is in her junior year, majoring in accounting, at Georgia Southern University. Both Kayla and Delaney, 24, have also worked for B&J Fire Protection.
        Meanwhile, Neal's sister, Ann Walsh, owns Free Spirit Pottery & Glass, at 42 East Main St. around the corner from Sola Fide Boutique. Walsh has been in business for more than a decade.
        "So she's kind of our liaison to the city and the downtown area," Owens said. "One of our deciding factors was her being here, and she helps us."
        Sola Fide isn't solely staffed by the owners and their relatives, who after all have other school and business concerns.         The owners have hired Sarah Bruno as store manager. Bruno worked a couple of years at Belk, where she was the Lancome cosmetics counter manager, and also worked previously for a tanning bed business.
        Neal and Owens achieved a goal of opening before Black Friday, so the boutique starts life decked out for the holiday shopping season. Bruno arranged the clothing and jewelry displays and helped decorate the store for Christmas.
        The new business's owners and people they know did the renovations, and display stands were built in the B&J Fire Protection shop. Wilbur Scott, a B&J Fire Protection sprinkler installer with carpentry skills, made the store's interior Sola Fide Boutique sign with its tree of life motif.

Fashion selection
        Sola Fide Inc. has an equally distinctive Facebook page. It shows staff members and friends modeling items, ranging from dresses and scarves to crocheted headbands and fingerless gloves.
        The Sola Fide children's selection includes clothing for little boys as well as little girls, but the rest of the store's merchandise is chosen for women.
        "We have anything from your college market up to your mature lady, I would say, because we have a lot of mature ladies come in and shop," Owens said.
        Sola Fide also carries plus sizes, which she said is, well, "a plus" because not all local clothing stores do.
        This is not the kind of shop where everything has been ordered from one or two online sources.
        "As a matter of fact we're going to Las Vegas in January to buy our spring lineup," Neal said.
        The owners are buying more clothes ahead than will be displayed at one time and say they will put out new outfits often to keep customers coming back. Neal described the clothes as classy but affordable, neither "high-end" nor "low-end."
        "Working-class is what I call it," Owens said. "That's who we need to market to because those are the people who need the clothing."

Fun and busy
        Neal's other business keeps him moving. B&J Fire Protection is currently installing sprinkler systems in schools in Jenkins County, Long County and Savannah. The company also does installations in hotels and apartment complexes.
        The boutique is different.
        "It's fun, and that's what we wanted it to be," Neal said.
        But he said he already hopes to open a second Sola Fide shop, in Savannah, next spring.

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