Local News

Monday, Oct 01 2012 06:10 PM

Bakersfield boutique Tangerine closes but won't compromise

BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

Even through the Great Recession, when the competition was compromising just to survive, Josie Kouyomjian and Kathleen Kelsey took a hard line on fashion.

Their boutique at The Marketplace continued to sell only high-quality clothing from independent designers. To them, where garments were made was as important as what materials they were made of.

In the end, it cost them.

A sign went up on Tangerine's windows Monday morning: "We are leaving." All products in stock are to be discounted 40 percent to 50 percent through the store's last day of business, Oct. 15.

In retrospect, co-owner Kouyomjian wouldn't have it any other way. She said she's disappointed, but not in the way she and Kelsey handled business. She simply wishes Bakersfield were as conscientious about what it wears as she is.

"I'm tired of selling things to people that they don't want," she said.

If that sounds negative, she doesn't necessarily mean it that way. She pointed out that a lot of loyal customers followed the store, now almost 10 years old, after it moved from downtown to The Marketplace in 2010.

The problem as she sees it is that tight budgets have caused more people to value quantity over quality. That plays to the advantage of chain stores, not boutiques.

"We don't believe in having a closet full of clothes," Kouyomjian said. "We believe in having a wardrobe."

Other Bakersfield boutique owners agreed that it can be tough convincing local shoppers -- especially young ones -- to keep in mind quality and product origins when buying clothes.

They also acknowledged doing something Tangerine wouldn't do: expand their inventory to accommodate tighter budgets.

"We've had to adjust ourselves and bring in lines that aren't $230, $400," said Amy Davis, co-owner with her sister, Kelli, of Fashionista, a boutique just north of the Padre Hotel on H Street.

Another challenge Fashionista deals with that probably affected Tangerine was the tendency of some locals to travel to shop in Santa Barbara or Los Angeles.

"I think a challenge with the younger generation is to support local" businesses, Davis said, adding that Tangerine will be missed.

Heather Abbott, co-owner of Bella at the Marketplace, said she, too, has had to adjust her inventory because of the slow economy. People now look for different things when they shop, she said.

But not everyone has changed.

"I think consumers in general these days look more at price sometimes than actually where the merchandise comes from and what it's made of," she said. But she added: "I do think there are select customers that care about those things more."

None of this is to suggest Kouyomjian and Kelsey are done with the fashion and style business. They said they want to take a break; what comes after that is up in the air at the moment.

"I think Josie and I are going to try something else," Kelsey said. "We don't know yet what it's going to be."

Bargain imports probably won't be part of it.

Said Kouyomjian "We're not willing to compromise what we believe in, what we support, in order to make it."

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