Located four miles north of the hustle and bustle of downtown Dallas, is a pair of unassuming communities referred to as the “Park Cities.” The city of University Park and the adjacent town of Highland Park are a mere 3.7 and 2.2 square miles, respectively, yet they house some of the Lone Star State’s most wealthy and powerful residents.
“It’s a very wealthy Mayberry,” said Bill Dodson, who owns and operates the upscale boutique Lilly Dodson in Highland Park Village. “Everybody knows the names of the police officers and the shopkeepers.”
Median home prices in the twin communities have skyrocketed in recent years to $560,000 in University Park and $859,000 in Highland Park.
Highland Park’s residents include Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars owner Tom Hicks. First Lady Laura Bush has shopped its stores since she was a student at Southern Methodist University in University Park.
A well-to-do clientele bodes well with retailers, who said some customers spend more than $100,000 a year in a single store.
“I have some customers who will want three of the same blouse because they want to have one in each of their vacation homes so they won’t have to pack as much,” said Phyllis Walker, owner of Del Ann’s, a boutique in University Park’s Snider Plaza.
Stores in the Park Cities that have been around for several years largely cater to shoppers 40 years of age and older, while many of the newly opened shops target younger shoppers and style-savvy moms on the hunt for trendy clothes they can’t find at the mall.
Independent of demographics, retailers agreed that Park Cities women demand the latest looks.
“They are very particular and very specific in what they want,” said Connie Segal, the owner of Elements, a contemporary retailer in University Park. “They’re interested in quality and fit. It has to fit perfectly.”
Here, a few retailers in the Park Cities that span the style spectrum:
Residents of the Park Cities in need of a quick hit of fashion — not to mention a Donna Karan blouse or a pair of Via Spiga shoes — often head to Tootsies.
Located on Preston Road in Highland Park, business at the the five-year-old store has increased over the past year, said store manager Susie Calmes. She attributes the increase in part to customers’ preference for visiting stores on a street, not in a shopping mall.
“We keep waiting for it to happen to us,” she said of the sales decreases that have hit other upscale retailers. “But it hasn’t yet. I think it’s because we make it comfortable for them to come here. We know their names. We’re like a family.”
The three-story store houses its contemporary collections — including Earl Jean, Cameo, Big Star and Three Dot — on the lower level. The ground level houses accessories and footwear from the likes of Via Spiga and Stephen Dweck, as well as bridge collections, including Jenne Maag and Lafayette 148. Designer collections, including Piazza Sempione and Polo Ralph Lauren, are housed on the top floor.
Calmes said she expects her customers to snap up the romantic, feminine and floral looks coming in for spring.
“I’m glad to see more softer looks,” she said. “Things are getting really pretty again.”
On the promotional front, Tootsies in September enlisted Los Angeles-based eyebrow sculptor to the stars Anastasia Soare, to make an in-store appearance. More than 200 women waited in line for hours to have their brows waxed by Soare. The store also employs an eyebrow sculptor, trained by Soare, who provides services year-round.
“It’s been very successful for us,” Calmes said. “She’s booked weeks in advance. We also sell an eyebrow kit that helps clients keep the look.”
The store also stages fashion shows to draw in new customers, particularly those who reside in nearby affluent areas like Colleyville and Plano.
One of the first things customers notice when they walk into the 1,600-square-foot Betty Reiter store in University Park is the woman herself. It’s difficult not to miss the French expatriate, since she often works from a large desk in a corner of the store that faces the store’s entrance.
“I don’t like having my back to people,” she said.
That’s because Reiter’s customers are generally her friends, too. Her appointment book is full of lunch dates and other social gatherings with longtime customers.
“You sell a dress, you have lunch,” said Reiter.
Reiter’s offerings lean toward European collections, including Paco Rabanne, Bernard Zins, Yeohlee, Cividini and Krizia. She also sells a private label collection.
In addition, Reiter carries jewelry by Jose and Maria Barrera and Tea for Two, as well as handbags by Eric Laville.
Reiter opened her first store eight years ago on the top level of an office building. Three years ago, she relocated to its present location, at the Plaza at Preston Center, a shopping center just south of Northwest Highway.
Most of Reiter’s clients hail from the Park Cities, and a few even walk over from their homes with pets in tow.
“We welcome dogs anytime,” said Reiter, who proudly displays her two black Labs in a framed photo on her desk. Reiter’s marketing tool of choice is the telephone, which she uses whenever possible. She calls up clients and describes how new items would complement their existing wardrobe or how a particular item would be well suited for an upcoming charity event.
Reiter said the store’s sales declined during the days following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but rebounded in October. November and December sales continued to return to normal, in part, she said, her customers are staying closer to home and seeking personal service.
“They go to the department stores and see all the clothing racks and get nauseous,” she said. “My customers like the atmosphere of a small store. They like to come in and chat.”
The decor at Elements may seem more suitable for an industrial warehouse than a clothing store, but its concrete floor, track lighting and pulsating techno music seems to be doing little to deter the women of the Park Cities from paying a visit to the Lovers Lane haunt.
Housed inside Elements are contemporary and designer collections, including D&G, Trina Turk, Poleci, Michael Stars and My-Tee. The store also carries the accessories line Two Blonde Lizards.
The University Park store’s owner, 38-year-old Connie Sigel, said the targeted demographic is women between 25 and 45.
Sigel said her customers are on the cusp of trends and “come in and say, ‘I want the newest of the new.”‘
She added: “My customers want things that are fitted. Sexy is what sells for us. They want to look young, but not too young. They don’t want to look like their daughters or their son’s girlfriend.”
Sigel said sales for 2001 are up 20 percent and despite a gloomy economic outlook, her customers are shopping.
“I think they are shopping to take their minds off other things,” she said.
Sigel said she has scaled back on trunk shows because “people want to see a variety of designers, not just one.” Instead, Sigel is focusing on charity fashion shows and events. She also has increased the store’s advertising, buying a billboard on the Dallas North Tollway, a few hundred yards away from her store.
A grand dame of the Park Cities retail scene, Lilly Dodson has been offering designer collections for more than 35 years.
Its profile has risen in recent years, due, in part, to a longtime client, First Lady Laura Bush, who relied on the store’s in-house designer, Michael Faircloth, for his conservative suits and elegant eveningwear.
“Her marriage with Michael was a natural,” said owner Bill Dodson, son of founder Lilly Dodson, who has retired from the business. “She needed unique designs that were hers alone and he has been able to provide that.”
Faircloth plans in January to move into his own studio in Dallas.
Located in Highland Park Village, the town’s priciest shopping center, Lilly Dodson draws clients from around the Southwest who fly in for the day to assemble entire wardrobes. The store is connected to an Escada boutique that Dodson manages for the German firm.
Lilly Dodson carries designer collections, including Badgley Mischka, Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta, as well as contemporary resources, including Betsey Johnson, ABS and David Meister. The store also stocks jewelry by Daniel Swarovski, handbags by Kathrine Baumann and footwear by Calvin Klein, Vera Wang, Taryn Rose and Christian Lacroix.
Lilly Dodson stages trunk shows, although it dabbles in other types of events. It recently hosted an in-store art exhibit, which featured the works of portrait artist Janie Emery.
The store in the spring will launch Mondi, a German sportswear collection that once had its own chain of boutiques in the U.S. The store will be the exclusive U.S. distributor of the line, which has price points between $200 and $600.
“It’s very well known,” Dodson said. “They fell upon some difficulties in Europe, but not in the U.S. We’re very excited about offering it.”
Since its opening 56 years ago, Del Ann’s has undergone a major change in its offerings, as well as its ownership. It began as an embroidery shop owned by Idelle Rabin and her mother, Ann Goodman, but eventually morphed into a better specialty store during the Forties. The store’s current owner, Phyllis Walker, struck up a friendship with Rabin while serving on a local charity board and decided in 1995 to purchase the University Park store. While Del Ann’s has a new owner, the legacy of the original owners lives on: The store’s name is a combination of the founders’ first names.
Del Ann’s, located at pedestrian-friendly Snider Plaza near SMU, carries eveningwear, including collections from Naeem Khan and Mark Heister, as well as Verducci, Stizzoli, Bernard Zins and Renfrew. On the accessories front, the store carries handbags from Julie Feldman and Cynthia Hart, plus jewelry by Lois Hill and Mignon Faget.
Walker said a substantial portion of the store’s business is for special occasions, particularly mothers of brides and grooms.
Like many of her colleagues, Walker said business was tough last year.
“We were significantly behind last year’s numbers until November,” she said.
She boosted sales by sending out, prior to Thanksgiving, $100 gift certificates to more than 500 of her best customers.
“It’s been a constant marketing season,” she said of the fall. “But I do it because I feel like I have a responsibility to our vendors in New York.”
Walker said her business depends on close relationships with core customers. She estimates that she has about 45 customers who do upward of $20,000 a year at the store. “In this season in particular, I haven’t seen a lot of frivolous purchases,” said the 55-year-old Walker, who opened a Del Ann’s in Fort Worth in 1998. “Our shoppers are driven by schedules and trips they have to make and a lot of those trips have been canceled.”
When Lynne Miller one year ago decided to open her Highland Park cosmetics and skin care store, Olivia, she wanted it to be as different as possible from the department store makeup-counter experience. She combed the world for the best makeup, brushes and skin care products, and then made sure her customers would want to linger in the store by packaging them with a dose of the Southern hospitality that she learned as a girl growing up in South Carolina.
“The store is set up like a home,” she said. “When you walk into a Southern home, you see a cabinet for serving on the right and seating on the left. This store really celebrates the Southern woman. We serve up Southern hospitality.”
Miller’s Southern roots also are evident in her private label cosmetics line, which includes a deep-purple eye shadow called Bride Magnolia. Lipsticks are named for flowers, friends or relatives, such as her mother, Doris, who gets a coral shade in her honor.
Miller created a gift registry system recently because “a lot of brides don’t want to do the china thing+this way, they can ask for something they will really use.”
Half of the store’s business is skin care products and Miller provides a private treatment area for facials, waxing and other services. The store also has a hair salon in a separate room and can arrange for hair and makeup styling in clients’ homes or hotel rooms.
Miller also stocks men’s skin care items, as well as European toothpastes, including Denblan, one of her favorites from France.
The store’s diversification is part of Miller’s plan to offer customers a complete body care shopping experience.
“We’re the antimall store,” she said. “We give people a total-service experience and they come back. They really trust us.”