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Out with the gowns, in with the sweaters: Locally owned boutiques weathering COVID-19

The pandemic shut down more than just big national stores mall last spring.

Locally-owned clothing stores in Boise also shut their doors alongside their corporate competitors when COVID-19 hit in March. Since then, the smaller boutiques and clothing shops in and around downtown Boise innovated to find new ways to get their products to customers and stock different clothes as demand rapidly shifted.

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Fancy Pants, a woman’s clothing store temporarily located on Grove Street, saw a sharp decline like other stores during the early days of the pandemic. With the store closed to shoppers, co-owner Courtney Holden ramped up their online presence to keep reaching customers.

Her store started selling clothes directly through the store’s Instagram page, doing free home delivery of clothes and built up their website. Traffic has slowed down, but Holden said they have maintained their dedicated customers who like the experience.

“People are really supporting us still because they’d rather do that than go online,” she said. “We have customers all over. We are stylists and wouldn’t give someone the wrong information just to sell something.”

[Boutique store shuffle: One Downtown clothier closes, another moves (temporarily)]

Shift Boutique, a women’s boutique, and adjoining menswear store Keystone Station on Bannock Street struggled to come back after the stay-at-home-orders closed retail shops in the spring. Co-owner Kelsey Miller said their focus on their store downtown made it hard to make sales during the pandemic.

“We are a store front, brick and mortar store to our core so being shut down and not having people able to walk in the store has been really detrimental,” Miller said. “Since it opened we have seen a slow bounce back. It’s much more inconsistent and we aren’t back to where we were even.”

Different items in the cart

A display inside Fancy Pants at its temporary Grove Street location. Photo: Margaret Carmel/BoiseDev

When customers are buying, they are picking out different things than before. Formal gowns and upscale work attire, like blazers, sit on the shelves. Customers snap up jeans and loungewear sweaters.

Piece Unique & Shoez on 10th Street got through the early shutdown with gift card sales and loyal customers keep coming back. Normally the fall is ripe with customers searching for formal gowns for holiday galas or company parties, but not this year.

“We’re selling some of the blouses, but not work suits,” Natalie Duram, Piece Unique owner said. “Our gowns, no way. We sell some dresses for people still getting married, but no holiday gowns.”

Miller is trying to stock Shift Boutique with more pajamas and clothes for lounging at home than before.

“It’s altered our business because people aren’t going out for events or into the office,” she said We are being more conscious of bringing in more casual soft pants, comfy sweatshirts. We’ve kind of brought in PJ items for the holidays before but we’re having a bit more selection of those types of items.”

Buying clothes on Zoom?

The exterior of Piece Unique & Shoez on 10th Street. Photo: Margaret Carmel/BoiseDev

Boutique owners purchased the clothes on display now months in advance at markets, typically in New York City. By the time the pandemic hit and lockdowns closed stores, many boutique owners made decisions on what clothes to stock without knowing what would come.

For example, Holden purchased the clothes on display in Fancy Pants in February 2020. Normally when she makes decisions on what to buy, she can see the clothes on a model and feel the material herself before making the decision. But now, she and her fellow store owners purchases clothes for her store on Zoom.

“It’s interesting buying clothes without ever touching them,” she said.

Duram did her purchasing with a little bit of optimism in mind for spring. Although cases of COVID-19 continue, she said customers have kept coming to the store in search of a place to have an in-person shopping experience.

“People used to buy online and now they want to see it and touch it and have the whole experience,” she said. “ People want to associate a little bit more with you when they shop and I do like that. They’re still working from home and they want to get out.”

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev senior reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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