If women shoppers knew that they could purchase the latest styles from about 20 top designers at 30% to 60% below retail, would they be willing to pay a one-time membership fee of $25 for that shopping privilege?
This is what Irwin Schwartz, owner of Damone's, asked himself two years ago.
Schwartz knew that a membership fee would eliminate most of the looky-loos and allow him to trim sales personnel.
He also believed that most of his steady customers would join, and they did--almost 5,000 of them.
Schwartz focuses on a select clientele.
"These ladies are serious shoppers," he says. "They know precisely what they want, and they don't quibble."
The women seek current styles by name designers: Kasper, Adolfo, Nolan Miller, Albert Nipon, Cattiva, Pat Richards, After Five, Bob Mackie, George Simonton, Judith Ann, P.S.I and Bicci.
After presenting one's membership card, with photo ID, at the locked door, one enters the warehouse, where thousands of gowns, suits and casual apparel are on racks, each protected by a plastic cover.
On the right as you enter are the afternoon dresses; along the wall to the left are the dressy suits. Down the middle are the career suits and, in the rear, one finds the casual styles.
And for weary customers, there's an adjoining salon with sofas and refreshments for a pick-me-up.
Because sizes run from 4 to 24, there's something for just about everybody, and the selection is far more extensive than in almost any boutique or department store in town.
In the long, middle row of suits, a double-breasted Albert Nipon that retails for $300 was $139. A handsome suit with the George Simonton label that retails for around $525 sells for $399.
The prices are coded, but it's no problem since Schwartz's wife, Lorna, is there to give individual and private consultation to each shopper.
Damone's originally concentrated on special-occasion attire, and that focus is still in force. For those who covet a Bob Mackie for a big event, a full-length, long-sleeved black-and-gold beaded gown that would run about $1,600 sells at Damone's for $779.
For a dressy afternoon, a muted chiffon print ensemble (dress with matching coat) by Cattiva would cost $440 in major boutiques around town, but Damone's price is $259.
It's possible, of course, that exactly what the customer wants will not be on the racks, but Schwartz can place special orders at the same discounted prices.
The emphasis on personal service matches the expensive boutiques and is impossible to find at discounters.
The Schwartzes will even take a selection of garments, gleaned from their inventory, to a client's home.
Damone's fills a niche for discerning shoppers who know what designers they like and what styles they want.
Customers call ahead from as far away as Santa Barbara, Palm Springs and Las Vegas for appointments to purchase a season's wardrobe in one afternoon.
As a promotional tool, Damone's stages fashion shows for organizations at no charge. Those attending may purchase their lifetime shopping membership at these events.
Currently, Schwartz is liquidating his bridal gown inventory and is pricing gowns by Demetrios, Alfred D'Angelo, Marissa and the like at 50% below his cost; i.e., a $600 gown is $150.
Geri Cook's Bargains column runs every Friday in Valley Life!
WHERE TO SHOP
Location: 1349 S. Main St., Los Angeles.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.
Cards: American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa.
Call: (213) 747-0355.