Bygone shops of Church Street: Part Two
By Missy Schenck
Lois MacRitchie, the current owner of The Boutique, now in a new location on King Street. Image by Anne Rhett.
Across the street from Terrell’s in a tall, narrow building sandwiched between 86 and 82 Church St. was The Boutique. Established in the mid 1950s by Bessie Braid, The Boutique carried an assortment of gifts, fine china and home décor along with beautiful lingerie and bed linens.
Young brides-to-be included the shops on Church Street in their wedding registry. The Boutique was known for exquisite bridal shower gifts as well as wedding presents. The two-story shop was very small with multiple items on top of each other and could accommodate two to four customers at a time. It had an amazing inventory that must have been stored in the clouds because heaven only knows where it was kept.
A well-preserved Charleston institution, the legacy of The Boutique has served generations of customers for years. The store has seen a number of different locations and owners but continues to uphold the many traditions embedded in the business. At nearly 70 years old, it is the only shop from the original stores in the Church Street area that remains today. Now located on King Street, it is with its sixth owner, Lois MacRitchie. Margaret Smith and her mother-in-law, Jeanne deSaussure Smith, operated the shop for a number of years and Margaret sold it in 2014 to Mrs. MacRitchie, who had been an employee of The Boutique for two years.
Post and Courier photo of Alida Hanahan Hudson and Goody Coker in front of Stoll’s Alley. Image provided by the author.
Stoll’s Alley Shop
Tucked away on a brick paved lane between Church Street and the wharf of East Bay is Stoll’s Alley. Once a slum area teetering on collapse, the well-preserved alley was restored by 20th-century visionary, Alida (Mrs. George Dana) Canfield of Charleston and Peekskill, New York. Her two daughters, Caroline Canfield Hanahan and Alida Canfield Sinkler, started a sweater shop at 10 Stoll’s Alley in 1938 as a fun thing to do. They were told by their husbands not to make a profit, as that was not the point of having the store. Yet the shop flourished and was wildly successful.
Francie Reeves Morrison’s mother, Marguerite Valk Reeves Gussenhoven, was hired as the bookkeeper for the shop and spent decades working there. “My mother and Caroline would take the train to New York several times a year for their buying trips, which were always interesting as well as amusing. They sold beautiful evening gowns — back when people wore them. I would visit the shop, coming in the back door and sitting amongst the chaos of the back room. There were always boxes and clothes that had to be unpacked and pins, tags, wrapping paper and ribbons everywhere. There was also constant laughter and fun going on. These ladies had a good time.”
The shop that started with an inventory of just sweaters became a venerable retail establishment that emphasized quality and classics in women’s clothing with name brands like Davidow suits, Adele Simpson, Vera Maxwell, Diane von Furstenberg, Lily Pulitzer, Braemar sweaters, and Iris lingerie. A long-established policy of the shop was personalized service for their customers. “Taking time to know and understand the personal preferences of our customers was a very important part of our business operation,” said Alida Hanahan Hudson, daughter of Caroline C. Hanahan, who took over the shop from her mother and aunt in the 1970s. “When we went on buying trips, we looked for special items customers requested. The women who patronized our shop sincerely appreciated this kind of special attention and each one of them knew they could depend on us to find the particular dress or gown or other item they wanted. Many brides bought their entire trousseau at Stoll’s Alley including their wedding dress and bridesmaid dresses. Trust was an important element in the relationship between Stoll’s Alley Shop personnel and their customers.”
Trendy clothes seldom, if ever, found their way into the Stoll’s Alley Shop inventory. Mrs. Hudson said the shop’s formula for success was to stick with styles that enjoyed the perennial approval of Charleston women. “Stoll’s Alley was not a tourist-oriented business. Most of our customers were local women and many were friends.”
In the early 1980s, Alida’s husband accepted a position in Atlanta, Georgia, and she was faced with selling the shop. Fortunately, a family friend, Elizabeth Pritchard Bowles, and her siblings decided to purchase it. Joanie Lucas helped Elizabeth manage the shop, and eventually the two of them bought out Elizabeth’s siblings.
I asked Elizabeth what made Stoll’s Alley Shop unique. “The sisterhood of the employees and the feeling of family with our customers,” she said. “Stoll’s Alley offered a concierge service for its clients — something rarely found in Charleston stores.” Ginny Good worked at Stoll’s Alley during Elizabeth’s ownership and told me of one such experience: “One of our customers lived on East Bay at the end of the alley. Whenever a new shipment of clothes arrived, I let her know I had pulled several items in her size. I would then take them down the alley to her house on East Bay to deliver them and return a few hours later to retrieve the items she did not want to keep.”
“My favorite time of year was Christmas,” recalls Elizabeth. “Every year on the first of December we would mail invitations to the husbands of our clients to come shop for their wives for Christmas. We would remind them that on Christmas Eve we would be closing at noon. Invariably, husbands waited until the last minute, and starting at 10:00 am on Christmas Eve they would all show up. It was total chaos and loads of fun at the same time.”
“We made it through Hugo in 1989 and continued to do well, but we were all tired from the effects of the storm. It was a hard decision, but we decided to close the shop,” said Elizabeth. “It was the end of an era.”
“Dessa [Reeves] holding court outside of her stylish children’s clothes shop, Eighty-Five Church Street.” Image courtesy Francie Reeves Morrison.
Eighty-Five/Two Church Street
Odessa Livingston Reeves (Mrs. Edward B.) and Gradys Tupper Smith (Mrs. Whitmarsh S.) designed and made children’s wear for their shop, The Two Charlestonians, Inc., located on Wentworth Street in the 1920-30s. Little did they know that their endeavors would be the forerunner to Dessa’s children’s shop, 85 Church Street, which she opened in the 1940s. Mrs. Edward K. Pritchard and her sister Betty Myers (Mrs. Thomas P.) bought the shop from Dessa in the 1950s and owned it for a short while. The two sisters quickly learned they had bitten off more than they could chew and sold it back to Mrs. Reeves. She sold the shop in 1959 to business partners Georgiana Grimball and Mrs. James J. Ravenel.
Grimball later moved the shop to a larger space across the street at 82 Church, hence, the change in its name. Eighty-Two Church soon became the premier place for Charlestonians to shop for children’s clothing and layette items. In a 1988 catalog of the shop, Georgiana states her mission for the business: “We believe that children should be dressed like children not like shrunken teenagers. Clothes should be simple, comfortable and should enhance a child, not overpower them. They should last through more than one child.”
The hallmark of Eighty-Two Church Street was hand-smocked children’s clothing and Charleston Bonnets. A 2006 Post and Courier article states, “In its early years, the shop bought hand-smocked dresses from a Philadelphia company, LaPat Manufacturing. When LaPat announced it was closing in 1969, Grimball and other family members bought the business and moved it to Charleston, calling it The Smockery.” In its heyday, The Smockery made and sold dresses to about 300 retailers across the country and supplied Eighty-Two Church Street’s shop and catalog. It was a one-of-a-kind cottage industry creating outfits completely hand-sewn and smocked “free hand,” meaning they were made without a pattern or pleating.
In addition to clothing, Eighty-Two Church Street was also known for its beautifully crafted children’s toys from Germany — Stief stuffed animals, porcelain figurines, Wendt & Kuhn Wooden Christmas angels and Italian-made Fontanini Nativity sets. Many of the collections I started as a child came from the shop, including an entire dollhouse furnished with finely made miniatures. Practically every penny I saved went to buy a piece of doll furniture and was my lure into the shop to and from school, often landing me in some sort of trouble for being late for school or 2:00 dinner. Beautifully made surprise balls were a staple of the shop and a standard birthday gift that never disappointed. Presents were wrapped in white paper with pink or blue ribbon and a logo sticker of the shop on the package. Christmas packages had green or red ribbon on them. It was a year-round Santa’s workshop.
Of all the shops on Church Street, Eighty-Two Church Street was my favorite. My history with Georgianna and the shop spans generations and includes a long and dear working relationship with her. My mother’s sister, Anne McDonald Bell, and Georgianna were best friends growing up and Georgianna was a bridesmaid in her wedding. Our families shared an enthusiasm for creativity — the very thing that drew Georgiana and me together in the late 1970s.
When Georgianna decided to expand her line of little boys’ smocked clothing, she called me. At the time I was designing and making hand-smocked and French hand-sewn children’s clothing. She was looking for some guidance on simple patterns for little boys that included smocking and could be made at The Smockery. Button on suits with smocked tops, smocked bubbles and little boys’ aprons were some of the items made. Georgianna used some of the clothes I made for my son as samples and along with my patterns created the designs for the business. Somewhere in the black hole of Eighty-Two Church Street or The Smockery are a handful of my boys’ patterns and clothes I made for my son. I also made sweet pea bonnets like the one I had as a child made by Orie deForest and the ones my cousin Sinny MacMillan made for my children. Georgianna asked me if I would make them for the shop so I did for a while. When Georgianna added a catalog to her business, my children were some of her models.
Left to right: Anne Izard Mead, Jane Izard and Edward Izard modeling for the Eighty-Two Church Street catalog of 1988. The girls are wearing Smockery dresses. Images by Wade Sprees.
Rhett Perry Crisler’s mother, Louise Perry, worked at Eighty-Two Church for decades. She and Georgiana were a lot alike and Mrs. Perry was as much a fixture in the store as Georgiana. They were kind and caring people with a heart for children. “Mama and Georgiana would let my boys set up their lemonade stand in front of the shop. It was a prime location, especially during the tourist season,” said Rhett.
Georgiana’s niece, Jane Greely Cowan, took over the business in 2000 and moved the shop several times in search of a location with reasonable rent and ample parking. Sadly, changing times and increased competition prompted the decision to close the shop in 2006. Cowan has continued the sale of Charleston Bonnets through her online business, CharlestonBonnet.com.
If I were to close my eyes, I could find Eighty-Two Church Street by its sweet smell and the chatter within. The small children’s shop dressed generations of little girls in smocked dresses and Charleston bonnets and little boys in sailor suits. Many children had portraits painted wearing clothes from Eighty-Two Church Street or have a family christening gown that was bought there.
Gone are the days when a shop called to let you know that a variety of suits and dresses had just arrived and were being held in your size. Collectively, the shops on Church Street could assemble a bridal trousseau of the finest lingerie and clothes or put together a baby’s layette and decorate the nursery. The concierge-type services and quality of the products made distinguished the shops on Church Street and sustained them for decades. All of them were institutions deeply entwined in tradition and part of an era in Charleston history.
Many thanks to Peter Dodds for reminding me of the important role his father played with the brainstorming behind Porgy and Bess. Peter’s father, William Dodds, was married to Louise “Lou” Hutson Dodds, the sister of Elliott Hutson, husband of Bee Hutson, one of the owners of Porgy and Bess. Peter’s father and mother were familiar faces at Porgy and Bess and helped with many aspects of the shop.
Missy Craver Izard Schenck was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina. She resides in Flat Rock, North Carolina with her husband, Sandy Schenck, where their family runs a summer camp.