Talking retail with Sarah Jessica Parker

Actress, fashionista Sarah Jessica Parker discusses her first permanent retail spot at MGM National Harbor.

Fans and followers of fashion know that actress Sarah Jessica Parker has accomplished feats above and beyond playing her memorable character on "Sex and the City."

She has released hundreds of shoes as part of her SJP collection, which sell at Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom, among other stores. In 2011, she even had a stint as president and chief creative officer of Halston's contemporary line, Halston Heritage.

Now she's turned her sights to her first permanent stand-alone retail outlet: SJP by Sarah Jessica Parker, a 1,603-square-foot boutique in The District, the retail corridor at MGM Casino National Harbor. Prices range from $30 to $695 for accessories and handbags. Shoes start at $240, while pieces from the SJP LBD collection start at $395 per dress.

The boutique's neutral-colored walls let the fancy footwear take center stage. Plush chairs enable customers — or their shopping partners — to relax in stylish surroundings. Jars of candy, bottles of Parker's line of perfumes and scented candles from her collection are displayed on a circular glass table near the center of the room.

"We want people to walk in and feel that it is a friendly place," Parker said by phone a day after meeting with more than 500 customers on the casino's opening night. The line for the boutique, she said, was 300 deep at times. Parker also signed shoes for all customers who purchased a pair the first night.

The second day of business, Beverly Cornish of Alexandria, Va., marveled at a pair of iridescent teal pumps.

"I love shoes," she said as she examined the heels. "I watched 'Sex and the City' for years."

Within seconds, a sales associate was assisting her and answering questions about the collection and Parker.

"I want to buy a pair, but I want her signature," Cornish said. "I don't own any of her shoes — yet."

She then grabbed a pink suede kitten heel: "This is my type of heel."

Passers-by stopped on their way to the casino to take peeks at the brightly lit store, where 211 shoe styles are on display.

"She [Parker] was there last night," one woman told her group.

In the store, Cornish said that the draw of nongambling activities such as shopping attracted her to the casino.

"They've been telling us there are more than slot machines," she said.

At that moment, the sales associate returned from the back room with a box of shoes in her size.

Parker said customer service and a welcoming environment are paramount. It's what she preaches to her employees.

"There is something really unique about walking into a store with a staff that feels really invested," she said. "That's why [personal appearances] are so important to us. We want to share as much information as possible with the customer."

Parker has been able to fine-tune her retail prowess over the years by working with Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom, Amazon and Zappos with the SJP brand.

When MGM approached her a year ago about the prospect of opening a brick-and-mortar store, Parker said, "We imagined at best being three years away. ... It's a huge undertaking."

But she jumped at the chance. She had just completed a successful pop-up retail space in Las Vegas at The Shops at Crystals.

The idea of a permanent store "was very intriguing and exciting."

Parker said she was eager for customers in this region to learn about the shoes, which are leather and handmade in Italy. The shoes have the support of her partner, George Malkemus III, the CEO of the shoe brand Manolo Blahnik.

"We worked very hard on price ... knowing that people work very hard for their money," she said. "I'm very cognizant of that.

"They are quality shoes ... they will be relevant in five years ... they will also last," she said. "They are beautiful."

Expect to see Parker pop into the store with some frequency.

"We have a very small team in New York," she said. "I'm completely involved. There will be lots of interactions with customers . ... The only way to do it is pay visits to the store."

Parker plans to make several trips back to the boutique between now and when she starts filming the second season of her HBO series "Divorce."

In addition to more visits to the store, customers will see more shoes, accessories and clothes offered in the near future, Parker said.

"We have to grow that," Parker said in reference to her ready-to-wear offerings. "Bloomingdale's wants us to expand in the dress category. ... They feel we can do it and that there is a place for us."

johnjwilliams@baltsun.com

twitter.com/popcouturejjw4

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