Ross boutique closes an era in L.A.

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Jen Meyer met husband Tobey Maguire here, Kate Hudson bought her first Stella McCartney for Chloe dress here, and Shoshanna Lonstein Gruss worked here for a summer.

The memories are still fresh for retailer Tracey Ross, who last week closed the doors of her boutique, another casualty of the recession.

“I can’t believe it’s been 18 years,” she said Monday night, stacking the last few pairs of Indian toe-ring sandals on the floor in her near-empty shop. “Lindsay [Lohan] and Samantha [Ronson] stopped in yesterday. I’m just telling people to come by and give me a hug.”


Ross, a Farrah Fawcett look-alike who’s Hollywood thin, grew up in Long Beach. She opened on Robertson Boulevard in 1990, before moving to Sunset Plaza in 1996, selling high-end clothes by McCartney, Thakoon and Derek Lam alongside such L.A. lifestyle necessities as “Trust Me I’m a Yoga Teacher” T-shirts, Shamballa bracelets, Slim Aarons photography books and her own Tracey Ross-branded sugar scrubs and body butters.

More than a retail store, her boutique was a hangout for celebrities such as Courtney Love, Bob Dylan and Robert Downey Jr., who came by to shop and talk, and to grab a latte at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf next door. Ross even had a manicurist in the back.

A “boutique hostess,” as The Times called her in a front-page profile in 1998, Ross was perfectly positioned to capitalize on the growing celebrity culture in the 1990s. Her store appeared in an episode of “Beverly Hills, 90210.” People came in to shop and to see who was shopping.

The Coffee Bean closed in 2005. The landscape was shifting in other ways too. It wasn’t just L.A. that was feeding on celebrity culture anymore, it was the whole world. Several boutiques like Ross’ opened, many on Robertson Boulevard. And unlike some other prominent boutique owners, Ross wouldn’t sell and tell, meaning she wouldn’t violate customers’ privacy by telling reporters what they’d bought, or turn paparazzi on to who was there.

Also, the fashion world began catering directly to celebrities. Designers opened their own L.A. boutiques at a fast clip -- McCartney, Miu Miu, Alberta Ferretti and Balenciaga. Now, Lindsay and Kate can shop at those places with a hefty discount, or designers send them clothes for free in hopes that they will be photographed wearing them.

The deep-discount climate of the recession wrote the story’s final chapter, putting Ross in competition with department stores such as Saks that were offering as much as 90% off. At the end, everything at Tracey Ross was 70% off.


“But I appreciate a garment,” Ross said, arranging fashion books on top of one of the store’s remaining leopard-print tuffets.

Her departure from the scene makes a person wonder about the future of the boutique culture in Los Angeles, once so integral to the far-flung fashion scene here. All Purpose, Presse, Diabless, Medak, Twenty Two Shoes, Meg, Danmark and Magenta have all recently closed. Even a few branded stores have shuttered, including Sergio Rossi on Melrose Place and Agnes B. on Robertson.

“Retail isn’t what it used to be,” said Ross, who plans to spend a few weeks at the Ashram in Calabasas before deciding what to do next. “I was working 50 times harder for nothing. When I opened, it was me, Maxfield and Fred Segal. But now, with all the sales, it’s too hard. I can’t make a living.”

A saleswoman to the end, she stopped to help a customer with a vintage Chloe bag.

“There are all these people who grew up here, and that’s the hardest part,” she said. “This is my life. But all the love and support I felt during the past few days has validated me.”