iBoutique closing after a decade in downtown Bristol
The blue "Shop Small" mat in front of 295 Hope St., is worn and faded, most likely from years of foot traffic.
Sadly, there wasn't enough foot traffic to keep the business nestled in the 900-square-foot retail space afloat.
As of this Sunday, iBoutique will be closing its doors forever, after 10 years of service.
"We loved it, and still do. That's what's so sad about it," said Caroline Scott, who co-owns the shop with her best friend Gina Sier.
The two met while working at Teddy Bearskins in Barrington. They knew each other informally before then, because their children were on the same sports teams. But it was their passion for unique and exotic retail that drew them closer.
The pair decided to open their own boutique when they perceived a need not being met.
"There wasn't anywhere to buy unique, good, teen or pre-teen clothes," Caroline said. That thought transitioned into the array of items they offered at iBoutique — New York City style trends in accessories, shoes, handbags and jewelry.
But before they could set up shop, their husbands had asked them to do home parties with their products first.
"They were 'ok' with us opening the store, and very supportive," Caroline said. "But to see how serious we were about it, they wanted us to try selling the product first without much overhead."
Gina and Caroline hosted parties for a year, convincing their beaus that they were "in it to win it."
And then they found the cottage-style storefront at 295 Hope St.
"We really liked the feel of Bristol," Gina said. "We thought it was a nice, walkable downtown; the kind of town where you can park your car on the side, get out and just walk around."
"But this location didn't turn out to be as walkable as we thought," Caroline chimed in, highlighting the store's position on the far end of Hope Street, just south of where the main activity downtown takes place.
"And then we lost about 13 parking spaces when Hope Street went to two lanes," she added. "And they took away three spots for the (RIPTA) bus stop."
A few years ago, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation reworked Hope Street and its sidewalks. In order to alleviate congestion, Thames and Hope streets were made into one-way lanes for about a year. This increased viability for many downtown store owners, including Caroline and Gina.
"There's nowhere to park now," Caroline said. "You could see the drivers looking over at our storefront, and then look around for a space to park, then just drive off.
"When we had it one-way, it was great."
Parking and walkability aside, it was the drastic downturn in the economy that truly set the course for iBoutique's closure, Caroline said.
"People don't have a disposable income anymore," Gina said. "Instead of spending money on a pair of shoes because they feel like it, they're thinking, oh wait a minute, I need milk and bread."
The only year iBoutique was really profitable was the first, Caroline said. But after four years of breaking even, the store began losing money. The pair has lost thousands investing in their business.
"We tried to make it an event when people came in," Gina said. "We tried to find unique things to this area. Sometimes it was a bit edgy, but we liked it."
They took the 'i' in iBoutique and generated a slogan — "I want it. I need it. I have to have it." Those words could still be seen painted on the store's now barren, white walls.
"Good luck with your next phase," said a customer who had stopped by that Monday afternoon to pay for a set of earrings, which had been marked down 60-percent, like most of the remaining items.
"It's been great," Caroline said. "But it's time to move on."