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Clothes for boomers

Chico's is a hit with the laid-back.

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VARIETY: Chico's limited editions change often.
  • VARIETY: Chico's limited editions change often.
A friend once complained that it’s hard to shop in Little Rock for well-made, stylish clothing for women of a certain age and shape. Everything’s too tight, too trendy, too cheaply made or too outrageously expensive. Women in other parts of the country must have a similar complaint, as Gap Inc. announced in September that it’s developing a new store to target women over 35. A company press release said the stores (as yet unnamed) will launch in late 2005. One national retailer that’s become popular with this demographic is Chico’s (12800 Chenal Parkway, 228-6623). The company’s sales grew from about $200 million in 1999 to $768 million in 2003. I decided to make a visit one evening and see what the buzz was about. I arrived close to closing time, and there were about seven customers completing their shopping. Several sales people patrolled the racks, scooping up items destined for patrons in the dressing rooms. They weren’t just bringing different sizes, but making suggestions on outfits the customers might not have come up with on their own. The right side of the store is the fun side, stocked with denims and other casual pieces. On the left is the “smart” side — dressier, with lots of velvet and sequins. In the back you’ll find the sales racks and what some stores call career coordinates. The store’s atmosphere is laid-back and it shows in the clothing: Most of the pieces are washable, and the traveler’s line features coordinating pieces in wrinkle-free fabrics. Chico’s has an unusual sizing method. Clothes come in only four sizes, 0 to 3. Size 0 is the equivalent of a misses’ size 4-6; size 1 fits misses’ 8-10, size 2 is a 10-12 and size 3 is 14-16. Having only four sizes to keep track of fits into the store’s no-fuss philosophy, and who doesn’t want to say they wear a size 3? The first Chico’s opened in 1983 on Sanibel Island, Fla. Owners Marvin and Helene Gralnick started with folk art and a small selection of clothing. The clothing was a hit, so the Gralnicks gave up the art to concentrate on creating a line of private-label designs for women. Most of the designs are limited editions that change monthly so, as one salesperson said, “You won’t run into yourself on the street.” Prices are in the upper moderate to expensive range — a ribbed turtleneck is $52; an embroidered suede jacket is $240. Chico’s also sells shoes, jewelry and other accessories. ??Bargain hunters take note: The Heights store Attitudes and Latitudes (1818 N. Taylor St., 664-3200) is moving to a larger location and will hold a sale from Saturday, Nov. 6, through Wednesday, Nov. 10. The store will reopen at 5913 Kavanaugh Blvd. (next to Satellite Cafe) on Nov. 14.

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