Browsing through the racks of clothes and accessories on shelves at Roxanne’s Designer Boutique, it seems like a typical shop one might find in Laguna Beach.
But for Roxanne Peterson, the woman behind the name, the new store marks a fresh start. It’s a new beginning away from the uncertainty of the past several months in which she watched the first shop she opened nine years ago slowly crumble.
“I never took it personal,” Peterson said about sales slowing at her original shop in Dana Point. “I always knew I did a great job and that it was the economy. It was very stressful, but you keep going like anything else.”
Roxanne’s reopened at its new location, 31678 S. Coast Hwy., about a month ago. The new shop has bit of a twist. One part sells new clothing such as Cookie Johnson jeans and Chan Luu designs; another part sells accessories and artwork from local artists in the Southern California regions; and the third part a consignment section with gently used clothing.
The first Roxanne’s was opened by Peterson in January 2003. Business had been humming along nicely. The shop was in a good location, Peterson was building up a loyal clientele, and she watched with pride as her business flourished.
Then the economic recession hit in late 2008 and 2009. Financial institutions collapsed, banks needed a bailout, the housing market continued to slump and consumer spending froze.
It was something Peterson at first noticed “little by little.” And then she saw it get worse.
“People were not purchasing like they used to, and that hurt small businesses the most,” she said.
“The economy hit small businesses harder than big business,” said Tammy Kern, the woman who bought the business from Peterson and brought her on as a partner.
Kern, whose business experience ranges from merchandise consulting for country club golf shops across the country to running Cal-a-Vie Health Spa’s retail department, discovered the sale of Roxanne’s through an online ad.
It was like a bright, flashing, meant-to-be sign. The price, $75,000, was extremely reasonable and the timing was uncanny.
Kern’s brother, Danny Kinder, 61, had just passed away from leukemia. The two had a loose pact about starting their own businesses, being passionate about what they do and not sitting behind a desk working for someone else the rest of their lives, Kern said.
“I didn’t want to be 60 years old, saying ‘shoulda woulda coulda,’” she said.
For Peterson, putting the business up for sale was tough but inevitable. With business souring and personal issues mounting — Peterson was caring for her ill mom, who died in late October 2011 — she had no choice.
Just when Peterson thought there was no hope, Kern stumbled upon her ad and contacted her.
They talked over the phone first. It was an instant connection. They agreed to meet in person to talk things out.
“We could tell something else was going on, other than just fate, and it was a good feeling,” Kern said. “It was like Roxanne felt like she could breathe again. Having her with me the last couple of months — I don’t know what I would have done without her.”
“It was hard when you’ve worked so hard,” Peterson said about putting the business up for sale. “I was mad at what happened in our country — why there wasn’t anyone helping small businesses, but banks were being bailed out. I was angry about that. And I said, ‘OK, Lord, you know the path for me; I don’t.’ I came to be peaceful about it and then Tammy showed up.”
Both women call the partnership a “win-win” situation.
“We’re a good pair,” Peterson said.
“We have that same energy,” added Kern.
It hasn’t been without some losses, though. The lease for the original location wasn’t renewed and the pair were forced to quickly find a different spot, this time in South Laguna.
And a broker who once represented Peterson in early sale offers came back after Kern and Peterson had struck a separate, different deal, and expected a commission (which they paid, they said).
They continue to see the positive in all of it.
Peterson’s old clients are slowly finding their way back to their beloved shop owner, and the two are doing their best to spread the word about their new shop.
“We’re paying half the rent now, and we’re on PCH,” Kern said about having to find a new location. “Every time we’ve hit a brick wall, it’s always turned out better. The pieces are falling into place.”
On April 12, the boutique is hosting a “meet the artist” event with Kathy Elson, who makes handbags out of recycled cowboy boots and custom-designed, low-slung, leather belts that slim the midsection.
It’s a big investment for both women, despite it being the second time around for Peterson.
“I’m scared to death right now,” Kern said about reopening Roxanne’s. “But I see the future, and it’s possible [to succeed].”
“It’s scary because you want it work out,” added Peterson. “You want what’s best for everyone involved.”