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Sisters start children’s store

ERIC J. SHELTON — THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT The Kelly sisters, Tana Barlow and Tamara Johnson, recently opened the children’s store Jack + Stella on North Commerce Street in downtown Natchez.

NATCHEZ — Tamara Kelly Johnson and Tana Kelly Barlow’s baby steps have taken them from full-time moms to local entrepreneurs.

The sisters recently opened Jack + Stella, a contemporary clothing store for children, located at 101 North Commerce St.

“We both wanted to do this since we had children,” Johnson said. “We always loved kids clothes, and every town we passed through, we had to stop and find a kids store even if it was out of the way. Basically we were passionate about kids clothes enough to open a store.”

The sisters are keeping the store a family affair. Jack + Stella is named for two of their children. Jack Johnson is 4 and Stella Barlow is 2.

Johnson said she wants customers to experience a wow-factor when they walk into Jack + Stella.

Johnson and Barlow are proud of their children’s shoes selection that features several popular brands.

The store, like its merchandise, is modern in its décor. Black polished hardwood floors, colorful window displays and creatively exhibited merchandise are part of the shopping experience.

“We decorated it to have a big city, urban feel,” Johnson said. “We take a fresh approach to children’s clothing and carry brands that aren’t seen here. Of course we have the classic brands that Natchez loves too.”

While the sisters don’t have previous retail experience, their success might be preternatural. Their father, Bruce Kelly, owns nursing homes around the state.

“He raised me to be Ms. Business,” Johnson said. “He doesn’t cut me any slack.”

Barlow said her sister’s strength is staying on top of logistics and finances. Johnson said Barlow is the creative force behind the business.

“She picked the colors and guided us in the right direction. She has a good eye for detail,” Johnson said.

The beauty of the store doesn’t allude to the stress the sisters experienced before opening in February.

“We were overwhelmed with the amount of merchandise,” Johnson said. “Boxes were stacked over our heads. It took three solid weeks to inventory everything.”

Johnson said it was also hard to go from her job as a mom to business owner.

“But it’s so rewarding when you see it all come together,” she said. “It’s a lot of hard work, but also a lot of fun.”

Jack + Stella has a varied selection of boys and girls clothes.

Another reason Johnson and Barlow opened the store is because shopping locally is important to them. The sisters said because of different reasons several children’s stores in Natchez have closed the last few years. Their love for children’s clothing subsisted with a need they recognized in the community.

“When our favorite children’s stores closed, it left a gaping hole,” Johnson said. “Natchez needed one so badly. We really went out on a limb, especially in a recession, but we are utterly amazed at the response by the community. Tourists might come every three years, but the locals will hold our business together.”

The staff prides themselves on assisting, or even shopping for customers who might be clueless on how to buy for a baby. And gift-wrapping is free.

Johnson said they have even emailed photos of merchandise, wrapped and mailed gifts for shoppers who can’t make it into the store.

“We personalize the service and make it special,” Johnson said.

The next phase of Jack + Stella will be the website, which is under construction. By next year the sisters hope to offer online shopping.

Johnson and Barlow purchase next season’s merchandise wholesale at market in Dallas.

“That’s how we stay fashion forward,” Johnson said. “We know what’s coming so we can always keep the merchandise fresh.”

Girls clothing in the store goes to “big girl” size 16. Boys clothing ranges from traditional to urban wear and goes to size 6. Shoes are part of the inventory for the same age ranges, and are a point of pride for the entrepreneurs.

“We call it our shoe department,” Barlow said.

Shoe brands include Polo Ralph Lauren, Me Too, Two Scoops, Sun-Sans, Mia and Rileyroos.

“We try to keep the latest styles,” Barlow said.

For moms who pay attention to clothing and accessory brands, Jack + Stella carries Hoohobbers diaper bags, clothing by Anthem of the Ants, TooByDoo, Joah Love, DownEast Girl, Little Joule, Tractor Jeans, Haute Baby, Mayoral, Lemon and Limes swimwear, Kicky Pants and a lot more.

“We like customers to tell us what they think of our brands,” Johnson said. “We are open for feedback. On my agenda at market is to try to deliver what people are asking for, within reason.”

Merchandise at Jack + Stella can meet any customer’s price point from an extravagant gift to inexpensive keepsake.

“We want to keep everything in an affordable price range,” Johnson said. “We do have expensive lines, but we don’t go nuts. We want to keep reasonable prices.”

Monogramming is available. Easter gifts, baskets, colorful hair bows, hats and children’s gardening items are for sale.

Jack + Stella is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. Call the store at 601-446-7073 with questions.

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