Bonnie Markle, a retired Harford County teacher, at first doubted Urban Pearl Boutique would have clothes suitable for her upcoming Mediterranean cruise. Specialty clothing stores, she thought, seemed to focus on the young, the hip and the thin.
Markle, a regular downtown Bel Air shopper, stepped inside anyway, mostly out of curiosity. And owner Lyn Boone, 56, assured her that the new shop on Bel Air's Main Street has customers who range in age from 12 to over 70.
Boone and her assistant, Maggie Bryan, 25, scour fashion wholesaler shows in New York, Atlanta and Las Vegas and bring cutting-edge clothes for women of various age groups and body shapes to the store.
"I think it is awesome that women of so many different ages shop here," says 18-year-old Miranda Lassiter of Towson.
Julie Koppenhaver, who lives in Street, agrees: "I am 17, my 12-year-old sister shops here and so does my mom."
Urban Pearl began as one of the area's first mobile boutiques. Boone, in the driver's seat of a glammed-up 1999 diesel Freightliner, rolled into community festivals, vintage markets, parking lots and private events.
Though she built a loyal following, the life of a nomadic retailer was exhausting. When Boone heard that owners of Heartbeat, a clothing retailer that previously occupied 13 N. Main St., planned to retire, she hurried to secure the space.
The 2,200-square-foot store holds a wider selection of clothing, jewelry, and shoes. Boone chooses her stock outfit by outfit, looking for quality in a mid-price range. Retail prices generally run $35 to $100.
"We call our style 'eclectically traditional,'" Boone says, pointing to the dress she was wearing, a classic fitted knit with a retro pattern and three-quarter-length flared sleeves.
"I think of it as boho modern," says Lassiter, who regularly makes the 30-minute drive to Bel Air to shop. Koppenhaver describes an "urbany" style comparable to youth-oriented chain stores, but with better quality and a more affordable price point.
You also won't see the same clothing in other area stores. With a fanatical philosophy of "one-of-a-kind finds" Boone verifies at the time of ordering that the styles are not carried in other Harford County stores.
"We have a very boutique philosophy," says Boone. "We get in one set of a style, usually in six different sizes. We don't reorder. This is a small town, and you don't want to see your outfit on other people everywhere you go."
Bryan, Boone's assistant, is proud of the "vibe" that she says has already evolved inside Urban Pearl's new space: "People can come in, have refreshments, sit and chat with their friends while they try on clothes."
After an hour of trying on clothes with suggestions from Bryan and Boone, Markle purchased four tops and a pair of leggings for her cruise.
"I have never, ever put on leggings," she said. "They encouraged me to try them, and they look great. If something didn't look good, they told me, which I liked."
Boone dreams of an additional specialty shoe and jewelry store in Bel Air, as well as starting small-scale manufacturing for plus sizes that she would carry in the store.
"I grew up here," says Boone. "I want to help Main Street move forward even more."