Atlanta boutique Dakota J goes for a merchandising makeover.

The tiny boutique Dakota J’s has taken on a new identity. Over the past year, the 900-square-foot shop has swapped its comfortable, casual lifestyle looks for the hipster reaches of the contemporary market.

Owner Terri Hill has replaced lines like Subtle Tones’ layered linen pieces and Nothing Matches’ bold rayon prints, with Robin Jordan, Equestrian and Liquid — the latter three form-fitting lines with strong hipster appeal.

"We just started seeing a younger customer in the area, who preferred fitted to loose clothing. We still cater to an average figure, though, and to a woman who wants updated but not trendy looks," she said. "I still have a little bit of that former clientele, because I didn’t do away with that category entirely. I just scaled back."

Hill is mindful of keeping her original customer in the fold.

"The bulk of my buy is contemporary. But the way I buy that category caters to customers in their 50s, too. Now their daughters who are teen- and college-aged can shop here. Everyone is satisfied."

Since the changeover began about a year ago, sales have increased 20 percent. Hill predicts total sales over $800,000 in 2002. Her location, near an intersection in the hub of Virginia-Highlands, a bustling district of shops, salons and restaurants in central Atlanta, has been a huge factor, supplying a steady flow of metro Atlantans and out-of-towners with disposable income for weekend outfits.

The store’s longevity also helps draw customers. Twenty-five years in business has made it a fixture in the area, before Hill bought it from the original owner in 1996.

Bestsellers are Robin Jordan’s bustier-topped knee-length sateen dress, loads of color in everything from solids to prints, and peasant or wide-sleeved blouses. Dresses have stood out the most however, with around 50 sold this spring.

"They fit all ages, and it’s such a cute look, a classic," said Hill.

In special occasion, Hill is swayed by newcomers, such as Marrika Nakk’s dressed-up versions of western or peasant looks in lace and prints. Eberjey has performed well in lingerie. There’s also a smattering of T-shirts, by Grassroots, Miss Vintage and Hanky Panky. Prices range from $18 for a tank top to $350 for an evening dress.Accessories, such as Lily Scott’s handbags embellished with chunky beads and Mary Francis’s box-shaped evening bags, are displayed in nooks and crannies.

Accessories include Seasonal Whispers’ chain or leather belts with tie fronts and Chartreuse Daisy, a locally designed jewelry line that incorporates chartreuse turquoise in silver settings.

"Chunky natural stones are still selling, especially coral and turquoise, but I’m not buying as much for fall," said Hill, adding she receives a lot of custom orders for jewelry by the local artisans she carries.

The store has become known for gifts as well, which represent 30 percent of inventory. Crystal picture frames from Two’s Company and poster-sized cards from Mary Ann’s Word Shop are popular, along with bath and body items she picks up at AmericasMart.

"I’ve been cutting back on gifts for more clothing space, but gifts are still a very important category because they bring people into the store," said Hill, who also will use the extra space to expand on accessories lines.

Though the store’s direction has changed, it still has a cozy, quaint decor, and old-fashioned design features such as hardwood floors, copper shelving and ivy vine detail, antique washstands and vintage tables, all of which are for sale.

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