After 15 years of selling high fashion clothing, the owners of Act I & II Designer Boutique in historic Ellicott City are calling it quits.
Saying they want to pursue other interests and spend more time with their families, owners Pinnie Ross and Lou Bennett will close their dress shop Jan. 31.
"We've been in business for 15 years," said Ms. Ross of Columbia. "We're not 20 years old anymore."
Last week, the women placed red and white "going out of business" signs in the windows of the store at 8113 Main St.
Local merchants say the women and their boutique, which specializes in evening wear and long gowns, will be missed.
"They helped me with a lot of things that had to be done," said Nancy Gibson, a merchant who met the pair nine years ago through the Ellicott City Business Association. "They helped me distribute a lot of newsletters. They were my immediate backup."
The pair said they began thinking about closing the boutique three years ago, after realizing they wanted to spend more time zTC with their loved ones.
"We're grandmothers now," said Ms. Bennett, who lives in Columbia and has four grandchildren. "I love little children and I want to be part of their lives."
Ms. Ross, who has three grandchildren, said she also wants to devote more time to a charm school she operates out of her Columbia home and to the Maryland Talented Teens Pageant, of which she has been executive producer for the past 24 years.
The pair met in 1971 while working for the Columbia Association. Ms. Ross was a volunteer, greeting families who had just moved to Columbia, and Ms. Bennett coordinated welcome services for the association's now-defunct Community Services Department.
Their friendship evolved into a business partnership when Ms. Ross asked Ms. Bennett to join her in creating a dress shop.
"She became a friend," Ms. Ross said of Ms. Bennett. "I trusted her. I felt she was a very honest person."
The two opened the shop in February 1979. They named the boutique Act I & II after theatrical production scenes and the fashion shows Ms. Ross had been giving.
To get their business off the ground, the women initially sold used clothing on consignment, which they discontinued in 1981. By 1989, they had attracted more than 1,400 customers across Maryland and had moved three times within historic Ellicott City.
Katherine Langenfelder of Clarksville said she has been a loyal customer ever since the shop opened.
"If you look in my closet, I have a small Act I & II," said Ms. Langenfelder, who has bought dresses for occasions ranging from Mardi Gras to work. "They have a fantastic line."
Ms. Langenfelder said she will miss the women and the store they operated. "I'm going to be devastated," she said.
But the pair say they have made up their minds and are looking forward to new challenges.
"I haven't been home and had Saturdays off in twenty-something years," Ms. Bennett said. "This is a new adventure."