Business

9Lilas urges 'dressing to the nines'

Ground Floor: Shop opens second location in West Branch

A year ago, Michelle Gritters wouldn’t have anticipated owning one women’s clothing boutique, much less two.

But with the help of her cousin, Rhonda Berry, and a series of fortuitous events, Gritters opened her second store in West Branch on March 1.

Gritters is a professional photographer with a photo studio in Pella. She first thought about starting an online clothing business in early 2017. Having worked as a department store manager for several years, she believed she had a knack for spotting trends.

“I always know what’s going to sell — it comes naturally to me,” she said. “I also have the photo studio to use for shoots.”

She named the business after her aunt Lila, who recently had died, and added a 9 to the name because it seemed like a portent of good luck.

“Like, ‘Dress to the nines,’” she said.

Last May, with the help of her younger sister, Tiffany Bushnell, who has a degree in apparel and textiles, Gritters rented a space in Pella and opened a pop-up shop for the Tulip Festival.

“It went so well we stayed,” she said, noting Bushnell now manages that store. “We switched our focus from online sales to bricks and mortar and old-fashioned customer service.”

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In the meantime, Berry was relocating to Eastern Iowa with her husband for his job. Although he works in Muscatine, they elected to move to West Branch after falling in love with its small-town charm.

That’s when Berry put a bug in her cousin’s ear about opening a second store.

“We started joking back and forth about it how I needed a boutique here, and finally she told me to start looking for a spot,” Berry said. “I think she did it more to appease me.”

“I thought it would take longer to find a spot,” Gritters acknowledged. “But with all the research and traveling we do to purchase merchandise, why not do the same thing for two stores?”

9Lilas West Branch, as with its sibling — or is that cousin? — store, offers women’s clothing from size small to 3XL in a range of price points and styles.

“We like to have clothing for women of all ages — mothers, daughters and grandmothers,” Gritters said. “That’s important in a small town.”

The 9Lilas business model emphasizes a personal shopping experience, and Berry said it isn’t uncommon for her to spend hours at a time helping customers pick out clothes.

“They walk out feeling good with a new wardrobe, and it makes me feel good, too,” she said.

Gritters said there may be more 9Lilas locations in the future, but she is content to wait for those opportunities to come to her.

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“I truly believe in business and in life that if you work hard and go for it, things will come to you naturally.”

• Know a business in operation for less than a year that would make for a good “Ground Floor” feature? Contact michaelchevy.castranova@thegazette.com.

 

At a Glance

• Owner: Michelle Gritters

• Store Manager: Rhonda Berry

• Business: 9Lilas Boutique West Branch

• Address: 106 W. Main St., West Branch

• Phone: (515) 201-5247

• Website: www.9lilas.com

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