Is the era of the boutique over? Many high-end fashion lines have been struggling with decreased sales and the small boutiques that offered expensive clothing and personal service are finding their business greatly diminished during this recession as well. The Washington Post reports
that after 30 years Harriet Kassman's eponymous boutique
is closing its doors. Harriet Kassman has been a Washington D.C. institution for the city's most influential and wealthy women. Kassman's boutique offered more than just beautiful clothing, her boutique is famous for personal service and the relationships cultivated over years of buying. Kassman's specialties lay in expensive suits for those who work on Capitol Hill as well as gowns suitable for Washington D.C.'s many galas and formal events. But as budgets have gotten smaller, galas are less frequent and the need for a new gown for each one has become an extravagance rather than a necessity.
The Washington Post article is full of plaudits for Kassman's store and the special place it represented in the lives of many women. Kassman is currently holding a retirement sale but is still holding out hope that someone else might want to come along and buy the boutique and keep it open. She is keeping the bridal portion of the store open until all existing orders have been completed.
In selling high-end clothing to women a balance between price and service has often been struck. In the past, enough people were wiling to pay extra for custom service and a store that knows their preferences and treats them like a friend to keep smaller stores afloat. But as times have gotten tougher that equation has shifted and there are no longer enough customers who are making the decision to put service at the top of their list of wants. A similar situation has been ongoing in the jewelry industry where small boutiques are losing business as their customers head to bigger stores or online retailers where they can get better deals even if the experience is a bit more impersonal.
This may also be a generational shift. Older customers were accustomed to having a more intimate relationship with the stores from which they bought goods and services. They remembered going with their parents to small dress shops and other retailers. The bulk of today's shoppers don't have those types of memories and are more accustomed to getting all their clothing in larger stores and for the best prices possible, a trend that leaves smaller stores like Kassman's facing a diminished customer base and fewer reasons to stay in business.