- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
Slightly edgy, always fun.
It’s the new tag line for one of Bay St. Louis’s most popular shops - Bay-tique - and fits as perfectly as your favorite jeans.
The boutique is the baby of Jane Alford, who also owns the Carroll House Bed and Breakfast in Old Town. When her career as a occupational therapist brought her to the Mississippi coast from Maryland, she came with the intention of staying only five years.
She opened the popular bed and breakfast first and then began the boutique a few years later to meet the needs of her guests.
“They all wanted something made locally that they could take home,” says Jane. “They also wanted more choices in shopping for fashion, especially beach-wear. Meanwhile, I was looking something to fulfill my creative side.”
Bay-tique is a showcase of that creativity. The window displays and store décor instantly make the most fatigued shopper feel enlivened. The mood is spirited, and so is the merchandise.
The clothing and accessories are geared for women in the 30 – 50 age group, in regular and plus sizes.
“I think about things I would like,” says the fifty-something entrepreneur. “A woman in her fifties doesn’t want to dress like a grandmother, but she doesn’t want to dress like a 20-year old either. I try to keep the merchandise fun and affordable.”
Accessories include cool suede scarves and vests. And the perennial favorites of locals and visitors alike are the Bay St. Louis hoodies and sweatshirts designed by Jane and sold by her exclusively.
Jane’s proficiency with graphic design programs makes that possible. She also has the equipment - and hands-on know-how – to make many of the shop’s distinctive t-shirts.
“I’ll make a stencil and then I paint and bleach to make one-off designs on t-shirts. That’s a great creative outlet, I really enjoy it.”
The merchandising part of the job is satisfying as well. It’s also challenging. She discovered early on that ordering her stock online may have been easy, but it’s impossible to identify quality from a computer screen. Now she researches carefully before she goes to market, steering away from product lines she knows other merchants in town are carrying (“we work together and try hard not to duplicate”).
“I want our reputation to be one of a high-service, big-fun boutique.”
Perks include calling a customer when something they’ve been looking for comes in and offering an online store where they can shop with confidence. Jane’s already done the quality control.
A highly motivated sales staff who are trained not to be “stand-offish or snooty” also helps in building customer loyalty. Jane says she has excellent employees and constantly gets feedback from regular customers about how helpful they are.
“It makes a big difference having reliable employees who take ownership of their job,” says Jane. “They’re great at helping put together a whole look that’s flattering to the customer.
“I’m really proud of the store. It’s developed it’s own personality and I like that personality. Easy going, spirited and a little bit sassy.”