Giggles, coffee, a straight-talking founder, and oh yeah, clothing, are a mainstay at Barbra’s Fashions in Old Town Clovis.
The boutique at 619 Fourth St. in Old Town Clovis celebrates 40 years in business this weekend.
The clothing boutique is different than many others in Old Town in that it caters to a customer a little older than stores serving teens and 20-somethings. Many customers at Barbra’s are in their 50s – but there’s nothing frumpy about this place.
For starters, the owner wears green nail polish. You’ll find holiday-themed tops here, but no bells or garish red Santas. Instead Barbra’s carries more subtle ones in tones of gold and silver. And there are elastic waistband pants with tummy control panels on the racks, but they’re modern ones with skinnier legs.
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“I have women in their 90s looking hot,” owner Julie Herring says. “People are aging beautifully.”
But telling the story of the boutique can’t be done without introducing you to the store’s founder Barbara Holthe. Yes, Barbara the woman has one more “a” in her name than Barbra the store. It was a little difficult to get an explanation for that one – something about wanting to be unique and a fella she dated who spelled her name wrong in a card.
The 78-year-old with the energy and the humor of an 18-year-old still works at the store Wednesday afternoons.
Not everybody could say what I could say and get away with it.
Barbara Holthe, founder
Holthe started the store in North Fork, making the unusual leap from running a garbage collection company with her husband to opening the clothing shop. It started in 1976 after her husband Bud, now deceased, bought her the historic Stage Stop building, once a stop on a stagecoach road.
“That was my Valentine’s gift,” she says.
She opened Stage Stop Fashions & Antiques in the building and other businesses filled up the rest of the space, including a beauty shop, a flower shop and a place called Foo-fa-rah (it sold “little things,” Holthe explains).
Holthe’s store sold clothing, antique dressers and more, and had a pot-belly stove. It wasn’t unusual for shoppers to pull up a chair and chat, sometimes with a glass of wine or a beer.
“My husband used to say, ‘Take down the sign that says antiques and clothing and put up a sign that says ‘Psychiatry,’ ” Holthe says.
About 25 years ago Holthe started selling antiques in a Clovis antique mall. She also convinced a curtain and pillow shop in Old Town to carry a rack or two of her clothing.
That went well.
“Finally the lady with the pillows said, ‘Why don’t you take over the store?’ ” Holthe says.
80%of the clothes at Barbra’s made in America.
She did and the store officially moved to its Fourth Street location and changed its name. Some of the North Fork customers still come in.
Herring took over 18 years ago, but Barbra has retained its chatty atmosphere. The “Tuesday girls” – five or six regular shoppers – still come in and shop together, for example.
Part of running a boutique is helping customers find clothes that work for them. Holthe and Herring encourage customers in the dressing room to come out and show off outfits.
“We have sent more than one woman back in,” Holthe jokes. “Not everybody could say what I could say and get away with it.”
Things have certainly changed over the years. Holthe made marathon buying trips to Los Angeles to get clothes from designers in “little cubby holes” in alleys, but Herring deals with manufacturers’ sales reps.
She’s one of the young ones. She gets on the computer.
Holthe, about her successor.
The Country Clippers barbershop next door now brings in lots of customers. The men go for a cut and the women shop next door.
The goal of selling fashionable, flattering clothing that’s comfortable enough you don’t want to take it off when you get home hasn’t changed though, Herring says.
The store carries sizes small through 1X, and will order 2X or 3X.
“I call them real women,” Herring says of her customers. “They have real curves and they want something that feels good on their skin and breathes.”