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Partners turn passion for fashion into successful boutiques

The owners of Gracie’s Boutique in Pacific Beach were having so much fun they decided to expand into La Jolla.

Opened a little more than a year ago, a second Gracie’s is now at 7556 Fay Ave., suite B, across from Vons.

The idea for the women’s apparel store, named for co-owner Jackie Simpson’s daughter, sort of sprang up spontaneously.

“I don’t have a business degree, and I hadn’t worked in retail before,” said Simpson. “I opened it because my daughter was just turning 1 year old, and I wanted to find something where I could have a job and have her there with me.”

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Simpson admitted that being a lifelong clothes lover helped spur her to go into business for herself. Starting the boutique also wasn’t hard at all for her.

“I worked across the street at a vet hospital,” she said, “and I decided to open a clothing store across the street.”

Gracie’s carries women’s apparel and some children’s clothes too. Small, independent designer labels carried include Smashing Grandpa, Industry, Indah and China Doll.

“It’s mostly funky, more edgy,” said Simpson. “It’s definitely something a little different, but with a lot of basics. We have things that are flattering, but with style.”

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Business partner Katie Ross said the age range of women served by the boutique is 14 to 40.

“We’re starting to carry more kids and toddlers stuff for moms that are at home,” she said. “Besides clothing, we do have accessories, as well as a lot of jewelry, candles and handbags.”

The boutique also sells shoes.

Ross said the price range for items in her store is $14 to $60.

The La Jolla Gracie’s has something else that’s unique: handmade custom jewelry by Julia Hughes. Hughes has been making jewelry for two years. She served an apprenticeship of sorts working at bead stores learning how to do finely detailed work.

“I mostly like wireworking,” she said, “with sterling silver and natural stone. Actually, I’ve been doing a lot of gold lately, but most of my stuff is silver. I do mostly earrings, necklaces and bracelets, as well as some rings.”

Hughes does a lot of her jewelry crafting at home, but also works while she’s tending shop.

“Customers can come in and see me, and I can make custom jewelry for them,” she said, adding it takes anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours to fashion a piece of jewelry. “Most of the stuff is fairly easy to make. If a customer wants something custom, I have all my stuff there.”

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The jewelry crafter works with semiprecious stones such as aquamarine, chalcedony, jade, carnelian and fluorite. She likes working with stones of varying colors. Different gemstones are popular during different seasons. “In summer, I did a lot of really bright stuff,” said Hughes. “Now I’m starting to do more toned-down colors.”

Hughes has lots of jewelry items on exhibit at the La Jolla Gracie’s that are already made. Her jewelry is in the $20 to $50 range.

Ross said that jewelry appeals to all styles and age groups.

Simpson said the boutiques are people-friendly.

“It’s very comfortable when people come in,” she said. “It’s exactly like walking into someone’s home. It’s just definitely local and beachy.”

About three-quarters of the boutique’s clients are locals. Only about one-quarter are tourists.

“We mostly cater to local people,” she added. “We’re not so much worrying about the tourist dollar.”

Simpson added Gracie’s sells lots of casual clothing such as cotton dresses, beachwear and eveningwear.

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You won’t find a lot of formal clothing at Gracie’s. It’s geared more toward casual designs. Owners are working on carrying jeans in the future.

Sales at the boutique are split about half and half between clothes and accessories.

Simpson and Ross became business partners because they wanted their own boutique and believed it would be more fun with a partner.

The business team noted that having a personalized boutique is a great way to meet people and make friends. There are regular customers who come in two or three times a week to chat or just to see what new items have come into the store.

Ross credits personalized attention paid to customers and a relaxed environment as reasons why Gracie’s has been successful.

“We’re a boutique that has atmosphere without the attitude,” she said.

Boutique hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays.

For more information, call (858) 551-1600.