Connie and Christyn Hagelin first decided to open a women’s apparel boutique in Morristown three years ago, but they couldn’t afford the coveted downtown South Street real estate. So, in December 2011 they launched Top This in a more affordable but hard-to-find location: a tiny, 1,200-square-foot basement store accessible only through a parking lot behind South Street. The Hagelins weren’t too concerned about being off the beaten path. “We could afford to make mistakes there,” reflects Connie. “It was like Field of Dreams; if you build it, they will come.” The two scoured trade shows from coast to coast and focused on carrying labels not found in department stores. Customers loved the store’s fresh looks, and word of mouth spread fast.
After building a client base and scouting locations, the pair made the bold move last December to a more prominent, three-story space on the corner of South and Madison streets. “At first we wanted to be down by the Green, but there’s no parking there,” says Connie. Aptly renamed Boutique 161 in honor of the new address, the store has both visibility and its own parking lot. The 1,700-square-foot main floor—formerly Camille’s, a sandwich shop—is flooded with natural light from eight Palladian windows. The second floor is reserved for private fittings, personal styling and parties; there’s even a staff lounge, an office and a basement for storage.
Boutique 161 has the same fashion-forward spirit as Top This. “We want our customers to have a reason to come to us,” says Connie. “They can’t find these labels at the mall.” As a former vice president of Macy’s in Livingston, Connie has had her fill of predictable looks. Boutique 161 carries little-known but exciting labels like Stella and Jamie, Three Dots and Red Haute.
“Our customer base is so broad,” says Connie. “We have girls in their teens all the way up to 70-somethings; they all like fashion.”