Stacy Smith always stops by 2 Chic Boutique in Pigtown to scour the racks of discount designer clothes before she shops anywhere else.
The consignment shop is bursting with suits, skirts, gowns and accessories with labels to melt a fashionista's heart: St. John, Chanel, Fendi, Gucci, Prada. And a few of them have come from the closets of some influential people.
The shop is the venture of state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh and Baltimore Comptroller Joan M. Pratt — and an investment along Pigtown's commercial corridor that Smith is eager to support.
"I am a community girl. I'd rather spend my money here," said Smith, managing partner of the Urban Business Center, of the boutique. "It's something about knowing that your money is going, right now, into the economy in your community."
Opening about a year ago, the boutique has been a welcome addition in the heart of the transitioning neighborhood in Southwest Baltimore, which bills itself as one of the city's most diverse racially, economically and socially.
The two politicians opened the boutique with a couple of fashion-oriented friends after Pugh learned about the demand for a consignment shop and dress store from a community survey.
"That's why we try to do a little bit of everything, new and consignment," said Pugh, as she pulled a suit with gold buttons in the shape of turtles from the collection. "Who gets Valentino for $80?"
The boutique strives to offer a selection of new and used clothing to satisfy a diverse customer base with sizes 0 to 3X and prices from $25 to $400, Pugh said. About half the items are used, including some that were owned by Pratt and Pugh.
"We realize that, one, we're in a community that's pretty diverse," Pugh said. "We recognize that women are all sizes. We recognize the average woman is a 12 to 14. We recognize that women want to look good at all sizes and all ages.
"We have clothes for everyone from the church community to people who like to come in and grab something for the evening and for people who just need a nice suit for work."
Pugh said she has loved fashion all her life and learned of the business opportunity from the survey conducted by Pigtown Main Street, a nonprofit working to revitalize the historic neighborhood. She said she wanted to invest in Pigtown since it's part of her newly drawn legislative district.
"My mother always dressed from head to toe," Pugh said. "When I was in junior high school, my mother used to always say, 'I don't care what job you go to, go like you're in charge,'" said Pugh, who also helped found the Baltimore Design School, a public middle-high school in East Baltimore.
"Appearance is everything. It gets you in many doors," Pugh said. "Brains keep you in. Fashion helps you walk through the door."
Pratt, who was paid $107,000 last year as Baltimore's comptroller, said she is a silent partner in the boutique and declined to comment further for this article. She also owns a private accounting business. Pratt noted that she's not limited by the city charter from holding outside employment, and said the businesses don't take any time away from her job as comptroller.
Pugh's position as a state senator is considered a part-time job, for which she was paid $44,000 last year. Along with Pratt, Pugh opened the boutique with Betty Clark, a retired special-education teacher, and Afra Vance, a business development consultant.
At one of the shop's trademark "girls night out" events on a recent Thursday, Vance moved among the racks and displays lined with shoes, hats and accessories. She offered complimentary glasses of white wine and suggested pieces for the customers, many of whom she knew by name.
"Today's 20 percent off whatever you purchase," Vance said. "We're all about dressing a woman, not only for success, but when you see her on the street, you say, 'That's a woman with style.' It's like having a personal shopper."
Flipping through the dresses, Nicole Hollywood Green declared, "I want everything."
"They have a lot of variety," the East Baltimore woman said. "It's like the thrift, the high end, the Neiman Marcus, all in one. It's not all one thing. You are guaranteed to buy something."
Tanydalaya Hughes said when she goes too long without stopping by, she gets a phone call.
"They are very classy ladies," said Hughes, a Mary Kay consultant who lives around the corner. "I explain what I want. They tell me to go in the back and sit, and they bring everything to me. I love the customer service."
The boutique is one of eight new businesses along Pigtown's main drag to open in the last two years, said Ben Hyman, director of Pigtown Main Street.
"Things are changing for the better," he said.
Pigtown — which gets its name from the days when pigs would be run through the streets on their way to slaughterhouses — boasts a sundry list of merchants, including a rotisserie, bakery, bank, printing and graphics shop, dollar store and dry cleaners.
Hyman said the neighborhood is working hard to recruit more businesses and attract more residents and shoppers. The nonprofit unveiled a new strategic plan in November, which recommends improving the neighborhood gateways and establishing a community-owned bistro that serves food in the evening.
Sissy Bryant, who moved to the neighborhood in the 1970s, said she's delighted to have 2 Chic and the other new businesses.
"I have been here a long time, waiting a long time. We had nothing here," Bryant said. "Washington Boulevard is looking better, and nice things are coming."
Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.