Here we grow

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 10, 2011

Eric J Shelton | The Natchez Democrat — Barbara Starr and daughter LaShaye Parker opened Boutique Unique in Vidalia at the former location of Help Hospice.

VIDALIA — A mom and daughter duo of hospice workers-turned-shop-owners in Vidalia want to provide quality clothing to their community at a discount.

What was originally Help Hospice, LaShaye Parker and her mother Barbara Starr transformed into a resale clothing store that opened on April 1.

Starr is a registered nurse and owned the hospice for 20 years.

A view of the new store from Carter Street.

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“I just got extremely tired, and (opening a store) is something LaShaye really wanted to do,” Starr said. “Hospice is rewarding work, but it’s hard. Now we don’t have nearly the worries because we are often helping celebrate something. ”

Parker was office manager at Help Hospice.

Starr sold the hospice on Feb. 28 and the next day they started gutting it.

“We did it ourselves,” Parker said, standing behind the counter of the cozy shop. “Separating and tagging things was the hardest part.”

The duo said they have always enjoyed working together, and the store gives them a chance to experiment with creativity.

“At hospice I was under mom, but now we’re partners so it’s fun to bounce ideas off each other,” Parker said.

Starr said she is able to separate her work life from her personal life.

“Every once in a while the mom and daughter thing comes into to play, but I always tried to keep work separated from life,” Starr said.

The mom-daughter team is proud of their selection of handmade items, mostly for newborns or small children, that include blanket cakes, diaper wreaths, lollipop cakes, clip on flowers, bows and burp cloths.

Handmade blanket cakes can be bought off the shelves or custom ordered.

“We give each other ideas, and either build or negate them,” Starr said. “But I’m just tickled with how everything turned out.”

Starr’s knack for finding bargains means Vidalians can find name brand clothes at massive discounts, like Vera Wang, Chaps and Candies.

“It’s all name brands and they have never been worn,” Starr said.

Parker said she admires her mother’s skill for rooting out famous labels at a fraction of the cost.

“I am slowly learning from the master,” Parker said.

As much as Parker and Starr have enjoyed getting into the retail business, Starr said a store like Boutique Unique was needed in the Vidalia area.

“Why can’t us poor people have nice clothes too?” Starr said, smiling. “Business has been good so far, knock on wood.”

Parker also said the community has been forthcoming with its support of the new business.

“We are pleased with the support from the community,” Parker said. “The Chamber of Commerce has been so helpful and friends have helped too by sharing the Facebook page. I tell people we offer brand name, quality clothes at affordable prices. You save all the way around — on gas, time and clothing. And we are constantly changing our items. If you come in one time, the next time will be a lot different.”

Keeping sales revenue and tax dollars in Vidalia is part of Parker and Starr’s motto as new business owners.

“We are big on keeping business local,” Starr said. “At Health Hospice we used local businesses to keep money in the area, which is better for everyone.”

Parker said she and her mother are giving back to the community by supporting Easter on the Riverfront.

“We are just keeping it local,” Parker said.

Besides clothing for the whole family, Starr said shoppers rave about their jewelry selection.

“Everyone has gone ape over what we have and how much jewelry we have. That’s the one I want,” Starr said, pointing to a bejeweled bracelet. “There is nothing in this store I wouldn’t wear myself, or dress my kids or grandchildren in.”

Parker and Starr can work with customers to design specialty gifts, like the blanket cakes and diaper wreaths, for themed events.

“If you have a theme for your baby shower, call us and give us a little time,” Starr said.

Boutique Unique offers sizes for newborns to 3X. Custom embroidery will be offered through the store soon.

“We take the work out of finding discounts on name brands,” Parker said.

The owners have begun brainstorming on the future of Boutique Unique, especially because they have extra space in the back of the store to entertain.

“We want to offer specialized birthday parties, maybe within the next six weeks or so,” Starr said. “We have a big area in the back that can be set up for birthday parties. We can offer cake, prizes, drinks, cups, plates, napkins and dress-up for up to 10 children. We will handle everything. We can even host specific birthday parties, like princess parties, modeling parties with a runway and spa parties. Those kinds of parties are a big deal in larger cities, but we have nothing like it here. We could even do pirate parties for little boys.”

Parker said regardless of their plans for expanding the business, affordability and quality of their merchandise are the main focus.

“I love doing this,” Parker said. “It’s a lot of fun for me, but I never expected to end up in fashion.”

Starr said her daughter was always a tomboy.

“I am so proud of her,” Starr said. “We always thought we would be in the medical field. We learn something new every day.”

Parker and Starr said they are open to feedback from the public.

“Because of the economic situation, gas is up, money is tight and even us poor folks need quality clothes,” Starr said. “LaShaye has four children and can’t afford to pay great big prices to have those real nice things. Young families have to make the mortgage and pay the bills. We are just trying to help them out.”

Boutique Unique is located on Carter Street, across from the Vidalia High School ball fields. The store is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Call 318-336-2522 with questions.