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  1. Business

Personal service always in style at LaBoutique in Spring Hill

SPRING HILL — Personal service defines Cheryl Barry and LaBoutique, a shop specializing in sophisticated women's apparel, shoes, jewelry and accessories.

Barry has owned and operated the business in Hernando County for 37 years.

Once labeled by a customer as "an oasis in the middle of nowhere," the independently owned store has flourished, even as many others have fallen to the onslaught of big chains.

"We've survived the mall, we've survived the Internet, and it's all because of our service," Barry declared.

She responded to a telephone call with, "Hi, Ella. When are you coming over?" As she hung up the phone, she went rack to rack, pulling out slacks and a couple of sweater jackets, hanging them on a fitting room door. The customer arrived shortly thereafter, confident that she'd find what she wanted among Barry's suggestions.

Barry knows her clients, many of them repeats for 30 years, and now their offspring.

"Our customers are loyal," said the stylish, 54-year-old entrepreneur. "I care about the customer. I try to be about them."

She had just packed a big box of wearables to be shipped to Arizona. That customer visits her mother locally once a year, always with a stop at LaBoutique. In between visits, Barry emails the customer photos of her likes.

Barry and her assistants also do clothing alterations and carry purchases to customers' vehicles. They've made visits to a woman's home to organize her closet, helping her decide what should go or stay.

Recently, Barry has hosted a constant contingent of five friends — "size 4 to 16," she noted — who arrive for the afternoon and sip wine while being shown the latest fashions.

"It's about being nice," the owner said, "whether you buy something or not, getting service you deserve when coming into a nice place."

For some customers who no longer drive or are temporarily homebound, Barry will load up her car and take a selection of fashions to the person's home.

That's not to say the shop's clientele is necessarily elderly.

"Thirties to 90s, lots of 50s, 60s, 80s," Barry said. "We carry some trendy, a little bit different, some classic, one of a kind."

She pointed to toppers and skirts of the in-vogue "high-low" hemming and mentioned the create-your-own jewelry line.

Shoes abound with bling — silvery studs, faux rhinestones, and cork and acrylic heels.

"I put a whole outfit together, accessorize them," Barry said. "Sometimes I won't let them look in the mirror until I add a necklace."

Pricing is consistent with high-quality goods, predominantly American made along with some high-end Canadian lines. Garments range from separates to cocktail gowns, from about $30 to mid three figures.

As Barry, then 17, joined her mother in opening their first boutique in Brooksville, Barry's daughter, Nancy, now 20 and an art major at the University of Tampa, has been a working partner since age 13.

"She knows the business inside out," her mother said.

LaBoutique is staffed by two full-timers and two part-time employees.

"We are blessed," Barry said, referring to both her staff and customers.

"Always the customer," she said.

Contact Beth Gray at graybethn@earthlink.net.

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