Boutique surprise 

In the Springs' chain-dominated shopping centers, locally owned clothing stores make a statement

Walking the length of the Promenade Shops at Briargate feels like taking a tour of mainstream American women's fashion: Ann Taylor Loft, Talbots, Victoria's Secret. Over the past two years, however, locally owned clothiers have popped up among the chains, offering aspiring fashionistas and the Colorado Springs economy alike relief from corporate domination.

Gloss Denim Bar (1845 Briargate Pkwy., #429, shopgloss.com), a trendy boutique stocked with lust-worthy brands like Seven and Paige, opened 2½ years ago between Express and White House Black Market. In addition to a wide selection of designer jeans displayed behind a mahogany bar, the boutique features an assortment of tops, dresses and jewelry, as well as pre-owned denim.

Rather than feel intimated by her nationwide neighbors, co-owner Lisa Borden, 34, chooses to focus on the perks of running her own business in a sea of chains.

"I feel like I'm actually at an advantage," she says, "because this is a high-trafficked area with lots of restaurants. And since we are independent, I can do whatever I want to draw people into the store."

'More than a store'

Borden's strategy for luring customers of all ages and price ranges is to create a women-friendly atmosphere where shopping feels more like hanging out. The store plays host to private events, trunk shows (when a designer brings in a line of merchandise, often a selection of one-of-a-kind pieces, for a special event) and, when the occasion arises, Sex and the City movie premiere parties. Completing Gloss' chic-yet-personable aura is Borden's chocolate-brown standard poodle Cola, a store regular and former Hurricane Katrina rescue dog.

Of the environment, Borden, who is known to her customers as Lisa B., says: "It's about empowering other women and lifting them up, so it's so much more than a store."

It's practically second nature for any frequenter of women's clothing stores to greet such a statement with an eye roll. After one too many misguided purchases, a seasoned shopper comes to regard proffered compliments from salespeople with a healthy dose of skepticism.

But during my visit recently, a Gloss salesgirl gently advised a customer, with whom she was on a first-name basis, against buying an unflattering top. (It didn't fit quite right across the shoulders.) With apologies to Cola, that's the real thing.

Highs and low prices

It seems Gloss' success has established a new precedent for local retailers to venture out of the Springs' traditionally small-business-friendly areas. Two independently owned clothing stores opened this past November in chain-heavy shopping centers.

Vintage Revival, another high-end boutique, changed its name to Lucy & Louise Atelier, and also its Old Colorado City location, to a space across the way from Gloss, at 1885 Briargate Pkwy., #615. Channeling an Anthropologie-esque vibe, Lucy & Louise's selection caters to a funky, feminine clientele with brands like Free People and Johnny Was. And the shop, too, is more than just a storefront, offering public art nights with food and beverages, and opportunities for private craft parties.

Meanwhile, XS Threadz (5102 N. Nevada Ave., #160, xsthreadz.com), a resale shop, opened in University Village and carries both women's and men's clothes from labels like Hollister and American Eagle.

Tim Gardner, 48, opened XS Threadz with his wife and two daughters after selling his video game store and taking a year-long hiatus from retail.

"I liked retail, but I wanted to find a business that would give back to the community, too," says Gardner, who pays cash up-front for recycled clothing instead of commissions and offers almost unbelievably low prices.

Although the Gardners anticipated their clothes would appeal to a younger demographic, they've been pleased to find shoppers of all ages drawn in by specials like "buy-one-get-the-second-for-a-penny."

In spite of the recession's impact on retail sales nationwide, it appears XS Threadz at least is off to a good start. While Costco, Lowe's and Kohl's have gotten all the attention within the new center, his store (nestled between Chipotle and Verizon) has built a clientele among discerning shoppers. And in the midst of his four-month anniversary sale, Gardner seemed confident and content — and busy.


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