Carolina Girls, a homegrown chain that sells jewelry, gifts and accessories, is growing up.
As many big-name retailers retrench, the 8-year-old boutique this month is marking its recent move from its original 1,400-square-foot location at 1890 Sam Rittenberg Blvd. to a much roomier 7,400-square-foot space within the same shopping center.
The upgrade at West Ashley's Outback Plaza allows the retailer to combine the existing Carolina Girls business with its Polka Dot Papers stationery operation, said co-owner Stephanie Davis. The one-stop shopping formula has proven a hit at the company's Mount Pleasant location on Long Point Road, she said.
"It's a convenience," she said. "We had a tremendous amount of West Ashley customers making trips to our Mount Pleasant store just to buy stationery."
Davis, who was a registered nurse before making the leap to retailing, owns the business with her husband John, a physician, and sister June Seel. They started the venture from the recently vacated West Ashley digs with $25,000 in seed capital. After cracking the East Cooper market, they then expanded to Seabrook and Kiawah islands by opening at Freshfields Market in 2005.
Davis said sales at Carolina Girls outpaced the retail industry average by a multiple of four in 2007, even as the economy faltered. She attributed that to hiring knowledgeable employees and focusing on "added-value" services, such as free engraving, printing and gift wrapping.
"Our business has stayed strong," she said. "I think we're seeing that people want to go back to boutiques that are locally owned and have a personal touch."
One of the region's only shops focused solely on kayakers is getting its sea legs, so to speak.
Sea Kayak Carolina opened its doors this week at 1731 Signal Point Road on James Island. A grand opening is set from noon to 6 p.m. June 14
The business is co-owned by kayaking veterans Sue Kershaw, Deb Mitchum and Scott Szczepaniak, all American Canoe Association-certified instructors. Aside from kayaks and accessories, the store will offer classes and tours.
Szczepaniak, who oversees the day-to-day operations, noted that Charleston becomes an epicenter of the paddling world each April when its plays host to the East Coast Kayak Festival.
"We intend to keep that energy going year-round," he said.
The company's Web site is seakayakcarolina.com.
Odds and ends
France-based shoe merchant Mephisto has added one-third more floor and display space, or an extra 500 square feet, as part of a recent remodeling of its shop at 322 King St. The owner is Gary Wasilewski, who also owns two other Mephisto locations in Charlotte and Raleigh. ... Clay Scales' 52.5 Records recently joined the Alliance of Independent Music Stores, making the 11-year-old shop at 561 King St. part of a network of like-minded retailers working together "to benefit our customers and record label partners," according to AIMS. The group goes on to say its members are all locally owned and are "widely different in 'look and feel,' but are united in their dedication to putting artistic integrity ahead of mass-market commercial hype. In other words, it's about the music."