Over the past two years, Fells Point’s boutique shopping scene has blossomed.
This waterfront neighborhood, historically known as an eating and drinking destination, has grown into an upscale shopping destination in its own right—even in the midst of a economic downturn and slow recovery.
What has fueled the boutiques’ growth, when other downtown neighborhoods’ retail districts struggle?
Many factors are at play, say local boutique owners. Chief among them are the essential character of Fell’s Point itself, the boutique community’s camaraderie and support, and the retailers’ focus on providing a high-end shopping experience for shoppers at all income levels.
The foundation of the Fell’s Point boutiques’ success is location, says Kelley Heuisler of Poppy and Stella, a shoe, accessory, and clothing boutique at 728 S. Broadway that has been in Fells Point almost five years.
“Fell’s Point is on the map. It is a year-round destination. We get a variety of customers as a result— tourists, conventioneers, visitors from elsewhere in Maryland,” says Heuisler.
Lisa Ponzoli, who moved her store Babe, which sells contemporary casual fashions, to Fell’s Point from Federal Hill in 2011, says Fell’s Point is centralized.
“It makes sense that the boutiques are clustered here. I’ve quadrupled my foot traffic since moving from Federal Hill,” says Ponzoli.
Toni James, who moved her boutique Katwalk from Read St. in Mount Vernon to 1709 Aliceanna St. in Fell’s Point about a year ago, says she relocated the shop to where her customers go to have a good time.
“Fells Point is a neighborhood where you can eat and drink well and also shop. I moved to where my customers are,” says James. “Aliceanna St. is a focal point from Harbor East on down. I get great walk-in traffic. I was not getting as much in Mt. Vernon.”
James likens Katwalk to a Parisian boutique: “Elegant, but not trendy. We sell pieces that you can’t buy in a regular department store, pieces where when you walk into a room and the heads turn. We sell lifetime pieces.”
Polina Hansen, owner of Polina’s Prive, a lingerie boutique at 724 S. Broadway, agrees that Fell’s Point has come into its own.
“Fell’s Point is definitely a shopping destination now. Customers have more stores to choose from. I think Harbor East is having an impact and increasing traffic as well,” says Hansen.
Another key reason Fell’s Point’s boutiques are thriving, adds Heuisler, is support from local shoppers.
“We’re lucky in Fell’s Point. The neighbors support small, local independent businesses. Not all neighborhoods do…I would not have lasted as long as I have without their loyalty,” say Heuisler.
Lisa Schatz, owner of Cupcake at 813 S. Broadway, which opened in 2006, puts it another way: Fell’s Point has a demographic that supports local retail.
“Fell’s Point has a very different feel than, say, Harbor East. It’s a more organic neighborhood. We have a diverse mix of residents: empty nesters, a somewhat older crowd than Federal Hill. We have a lot of professionals who not only live in Baltimore, but shop in Baltimore too, not just in D.C.”
Perhaps an extension of that local support is a sense of community among the boutique owners.
Heuisler, of Poppy and Stella, says that when she was thinking of opening a shop in Fell’s several years ago, she visited local boutiques and the owners welcomed her.
“That’s when I realized Fells Point would be a good place to open a business. We support each other,” she says Lisa Ponzoli, owner of Babe at 1716 Aliceanna St., says the boutiques are essential to each other’s success.
“None of us has the same image, so we promote each other. The other shops are not my competitors. I wouldn’t be as successful as I am without them.”
Another aspect of the boutiques’ success is offering shoppers merchandise they can’t get elsewhere in Baltimore City.
Polina’s Prive is one of only a few high-end, locally owned lingerie shops in the Baltimore area. Hansen is a licensed bra fitter and stocks a range of bras in sizes up to G.
“Many women buy their lingerie at national chain lingerie shops, but I think they are getting tired of that, getting tired of bras with excessive padding,” Hansen says. “Right now, women are realizing that they need to get fitted for a bra. Support is important and your clothes fit better.”
It’s hard to talk about retail in Baltimore without acknowledging that slow economy has changed the way some women shop. Fell’s Point’s boutique owners know that value is important to all of their customers.
Schatz says that last year was Cupcake’s best year, but she is still mindful of carrying merchandise in different price ranges.
“Cupcake has a lot of special occasion clothes but some everyday pieces as well. You can buy a $45 top or a $400 dress or a pair of earrings for $20.
You can add sparkle to an outfit without spending a lot of money,” says Schatz.
Heuisler says she thinks of Poppy and Stella as an accessible boutique.
“We try to find the best shoes and accessories at different price points. We do the ‘editing’ for the customer. You can buy a $400 pair of boots or a $7 pair of earrings. In this economy, customers appreciate that they can treat themselves without breaking the bank,” explains Heuisler.
Susan Singer, who owns Party Dress at 723 S. Broadway, says her shop is known for carrying many dresses that cost less than $100. “You can look great and different for less than $100,” she says.
Singer says that having high quality fashion at multiple price points might be what has ignited the boutique scene in Fell’s Point in the past year.
“About a year or so ago, it was just me and Cupcake selling apparel,” says Singer. “Then Katwalk moved. Babe moved. Poppy expanded. Polina opened up. Now there is Freesia. The scene has really popped in the past year.”
Fell’s Point’s boutiques and shops are sponsoring a Ladies Night Out on Thursday, Oct. 18. Check in at V-NO, located at 905 S. Ann St., and pick up a shopping bag for discounts and treats at stores in Fell’s Point from 7-9 p.m. More details on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FellsPointLadiesNightOut.
by Danielle Sweeney