Some people dream of an easy job they can keep for life with a good salary and a pension, the kind of job that you leave behind as you punch out at 5 o’clock. And then there are entrepreneurs. These somewhat masochistic folks have an idea they can’t shake, see a void in the market and feel a spark inside that drives them to do the unthinkable — open their own store. If the long hours, endless responsibilities and stacks of bills don’t scare them, the demanding customers certainly should.
Three local women stared all of those hurdles straight in the face and dared to hang out their shingle and open their own stores, to much success. With a goal to fill a particular niche, the right eye for style and a commitment to customer service, their shops stand head and shoulders above the crowded space of local and national retailers.
Melanie Clark was already busy as a radiologist by day and mom and wife by night. But as she shopped around for cool and different toys for her kids, she saw a massive void in the local toy market and decided to open Big City Toys in Spring Hill. With towering shelves of smart, modern games and gadgets, her shop is a creative candyland of play. Opened in 2015 to rave reviews from kids ages 0 to “infinity and beyond” as they say, Big City made the move to a larger space near Pollman’s where you can certainly have an unforgettable trip to the big city.
STYLE // SEVENTIES LUXURY
On Melanie right: Tailored corduroy “Rosalie” blazer with single front button in Dark Red (Veronica Beard, Debra’s).Wide leg floral “Bedford” pants in Bordeaux Multi (Veronica Beard, Debra’s). Silver spaghetti strap camisole (Sway). Gold and pearl bug drop earrings (Neely Phelan, Hemline). Clear top ice bucket “Pebble” bag in White (Neely & Chloe, Chapel Farm Collection). Open-toe “Abigail” sandal in Black (Chinese Laundry, DSW). Round frame black sunglasses (Hemline).
Sarah Thomas moved to Mobile after marriage without knowing a soul, but when the perfect location with charm and history came available for rent, something inside told her to jump. She launched Collective, a gift boutique with an eye for stylish accessories for both home and self. What was the former longtime home of the Pavilion on Old Shell Road is now filled with au courant baubles and sophisticated surprises — a one-stop shop for baby gifts, birthdays, weddings and more, and Sarah’s smiling face is always there to assist.
STYLE // METALLIC ELEGANCE
On Sarah left: Suncoo Silver Sequin Blouse (Debra’s), Abstract Multicolor Skirt (Studio Blu) and Suede “Chase” Dolce Vita Booties in Cinnamon (Debra’s).
STYLE // EIGHTIES NEON GOES LADYLIKE
On Sarah middle: Vibrant padded shoulder “Dapper Draped” midi dress with cinched belt in Lime Light (Grey Lab, Debra’s). Chunky black beaded necklace (CK Collection). Oversized “Needing Fame” sunglasses in Black/Smoke (Quay, Hemline). Gold hoop earrings (Sway).
STYLE // CLASSIC AND SEASONLESS
On Sarah right: Button-down collared shirt-dress with tie sleeve accent (Theory, Debra’s). Black wicker tassel clutch (Debra’s).
Eleanor Hilley was undaunted when she opened her method brew coffee shop, Chaleur, in 2017. She and her husband pour their high-quality, if not a little bit hipster, drip coffee from the old Mobile Popcorn location on Dauphin Street in Midtown. Doing one thing and doing it with perfection seems to be their mantra, but plans for expansion are in the works. A large coffee roaster is being installed so they can toast the perfect bean on-site, and a French pastry menu is in the works. The serene environment they have carefully created must bely the tears and sweat it takes to run a small business in today’s day and age. Eleanor does it with aplomb — and just the perfect dose of caffeine.
STYLE // SEVENTIES SHIMMER & SWAY
On Eleanor left: Shimmering rainbow striped crop “Rhodes” sweater (Alice and Olivia, CK Collection). Lined flare trousers with tab details and bold buttons in Military Blue (Derek Lam 10 Crosby, Debra’s). Horse hair bucket bag in Scarlet (Neely & Chloe, Chapel Farm Collection). Open-toe “Abigail” sandal in Black (Chinese Laundry, DSW).
STYLE // EUROPEAN EDGE
On Eleanor middle: White ruffled long-sleeve button-down blouse (Elliatt, Hemline). High-waisted cropped wide-leg pants in Brick (Demoo, Debra’s). Open-toe “Holt” sandal in Black (Veronica Beard, Debra’s). Turquoise loop earrings (Hemline).
STYLE // URBAN COOL
On Eleanor right: Tulle ruffle sleeve black cocktail dress with nude netting straps (Studio Blu). Kitten heel leather “Deedee” booties in Off White (Dolce Vita, Hemline). Embroidered floral clutch (CK Collection).
Corner 251 at The Admiral Hotel • 432-8000
Photography by Matthew Coughlin
Editorial assistance by Hallie King
Hair by Elisabeth Gigi Wells, Studio 33
Makeup by Olivia Fryfogle, Eye and Face Aesthetic Center at Premier Medical
CK Collection • 320 Fairhope Ave., Fairhope. 990-9001
Debra’s • 4068 Old Shell Rd. 343-7463
Hemline • 4356 Old Shell Rd. 287-6875
Studio Blu • 4354 A Old Shell Rd. 219-7424
Sway • 324 Fairhope Ave., Fairhope. 990-2282
Chapel Farm Collection • 19130 Scenic Hwy 98, Fairhope. 929-1630
DSW • 3930 B Airport Blvd. 460-9129