Healthy business is all about location, location, location

The promenade at Madison Park has seen two recent relocations this year. Ropa Bella, a high-end women's clothing shop, moved in where Madison Park Books once stood, and The Original Children's Shop relocated to a spot just one block south.

Originally located on Lake Union, Ropa Bella spent 14 years at the Arboretum Court and moved to its current location at 4105 E. Madison St. last September.

Ropa Bella

Ropa Bella's owner, Lisa Loban, explained that she had always wanted to be situated in a place with more foot traffic, more available parking and more stores to draw shoppers.

She said the process of changing the old bookstore into a women's clothing boutique took one month. The roomy, new space allowed Loban to expand the shop's selection, which now includes a gift and card section and a shoe department.

According to Loban, not only have her usual customers followed her to the new location, the move has attracted new business.

"There are more customers now," said employee Marylou Wickwire. "There are customers who used to buy books in this location. They may have seen [Ropa Bella] at its past location, but it was hard to find parking."

Glenda, a new customer, said she never used to come into Ropa Bella. "The old location seemed a bit intimidating. I never shopped there because it seemed too crunched. Here, you can see into the windows better," she said.

Glenda noted that she enjoyed patronizing the shop because of the uniqueness of the store's merchandise: "It's not like you're going to buy something here and see it on someone else."

Indeed, employee Brenda Kalbaer explained that part of the shop's mission is for customers to feel unique. "We'll only get four pieces of each item and try not to repeat it," she said.

Loban, who has been in business for 17 years, built the business on her own but bought the name from the previous owner.

"I think people appreciate the personal service," Wickwire said. "They trust Lisa, her taste and her buying. Sometimes they will check to see if she is in, and if not, they'll come back when she is."

The Original Children's Shop

The Original Children's Shop moved to its current location, 4216 E. Madison St., last April, from its longtime site a block away. Kate Etherington and her aunt, Heidi Pray, co-manage the shop, which has been in their family for generations.

According to Etherington, the business was started in 1952 on Sand Point Way and later moved to University Village shopping center, where Kathryn Etherington, Kate's mother, briefly owned it.

Kate Etherington's grandmother, Karol Kucher, started shopping there in 1954 and clothed all six of her children from the shop. She started working for her daughter, Kathryn, when she owned the store, and eventually reopened the shop in 1993 in Madison Park.

Kucher ran the business with her daughter, Heidi, until her death in 2004, when granddaughter Kate joined the family business.

When the Etheringtons got ready to move to their new location, the whole family pitched in to renovate the new space.

The entire family worked on the new space for three weeks leading up to the move, which took place over the course of a long weekend.

"We started packing Saturday afternoon, moved Saturday night, vacuumed and cleaned the old space on Sunday and opened for business Monday afternoon. We lost a total of four hours of business," Pray said.

Kate Etherington recalls carrying the merchandise down the sidewalk on clothing racks in the rain, sheltered with children's umbrellas.

The remodeled and expanded store now boasts a children's salon, a stroller section and an expanded age range of clothing.

Kate is sorry her grandmother never got to see the new space. "She would have been so proud," she said. The family displays a glass commemorative case in Kucher's memory.

The two agree that the new location has effectively doubled their business. It also costs double in rent and has double the space, they said.

"It's amazing what one block will do," Etherington said, "This block has more foot traffic, and the bakery ... It's always busy, a real retail block."

"The test is in the customers," Pray said. "People tell us they never used to be able to see our merchandise. Now people just stop by to chat because it is so nice in here."

The soldier statues that graced the entrance of the original shop in the 1950s were repainted. A friend outfitted the soldiers with heavy concrete bases. "The Saturday-night rowdies used to like to move them around," Etherington explained. "Once, I found one of them in the middle of a traffic circle."

As for the d├ęcor of the shop, Grandma Kucher's spirit lives on. Working with the designer on the interior of the shop, one of the family members brought down a piece of Kucher's furniture. By the end of the remodel, an entire bedroom's worth of "Grandma's furniture" found its way into the shop.

"They took all Dad's furniture," Pray said. "So now he walks the two blocks to the shop every morning with his dog, sits in one of his chairs and visits for a while. It's his daily walk."

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