- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
Joan Vass Off Broadway: 124 Main Street, Bay St. Louis - open Monday - Saturday
The Bay St. Louis boutique by the name of bijoubel has grown to ten times its original size in just five years - owner Melissa Hamilton began with only 200 square feet of display space. Now she’s expanded into the entire front of 126 Main Street and has just opened a satellite shop right next door – Joan Vass Off Broadway.
Here’s how she did it:
In the early days, Melissa carried only Joan Vass close-outs. The chic brand of quality knits commands hefty prices in upscale department stores like Neiman-Marcus, yet bijoubel offers close-out Joan Vass pieces from $10 - $40. Melissa says it’s something of a “treasure hunt” since all sizes aren’t available in most designs, but customers keep coming back.
She’s given the Joan Vass line its own shop, while keeping the same comfort + quality + styling = success equation in mind when expanding bijoubel. The store now carries brands like Black Cape (which is also found in Chico’s), for women who want a more polished look for business. For those who like the linen look, there’s Sea Breeze, made in the U.S. from cotton, with affordable prices and easy care. Full-figured women are big fans of Dex, a women’s line sized 1X – 3X.
Melissa says that while most boutiques cater to younger women, she’s focused on the thirty-five-plus group.
“No matter what size or age we are, we always want to look slimmer,” says Melissa, smiling. “Then as we mature, we want pieces that complement us. We look for longer sleeves and a looser fit, stylish clothes that are comfortable too. That’s our main focus.”
In addition to being price conscious when she’s buying for the shop, Melissa determined early on to keep fresh merchandise in the store, so even regular customers always see something new when they visit. Display is a high priority too. The time spent on thoughtful displays doesn’t go unnoticed by customers, who often comment on the store’s visual appeal.
Melissa admits there’s also an advantage to having the popular restaurant Lulu’s on Main Street located in the same building, further back. Often diners will be enchanted by bijoubel on their way back to the café, then come shop in earnest after their meal.
Melissa points to a new sparkly t-shirt hanging behind the sales counter. “That’s one of our best sellers now,” she says.
The shirt’s back reads “A Little Bling By the Bay” and has Bay St. Louis and bijoubel written on it as well.
“That’s us,” she says, laughing. “Like our customers, we love being in the Bay.”