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Sara Campbell: Charles Street is a Tough Place for a Small Boutique

Her other shops are thriving, but the designer said it's just too difficult to succeed on the Hill.

After less than two years on Charles Street, Boston designer Sara Campbell has decided to close her store amid what she describes as a very hard environment for small businesses. 

"It's been a disappointment," Campbell said of the Beacon Hill store. "There's no way to survive doing commerce in that neighborhood." The store's last day is Feb. 18. 

Campbell's other stores – the flagship boutique in the South End, the others in Wellesley, Concord and Hingham – are thriving, she said. Campbell is even opening a new store outside of Chicago and eyeing spots in Greenwich, Conn., and Palm Beach, Fla. She also has season stores in Nantucket and Newport, R.I. But Beacon Hill has been exceedingly difficult.

"I threw everything at it. It's my least performing store and it's my most favorite," Campbell said.

Although her lease isn't up till June, it's better business for her to just pay the rent until then (if another tenant can't be found) and close the shop. 

Campbell said she is tying up too much money in inventory and the foot traffic isn't there to support the store.

It's the combination of the lack of parking, the "ruthless" efficiency of the parking enforcement officers, the high rents and the hodgepodge collection of businesses on the street that make success hard, in Campbell's view. She added that her second-floor location makes it difficult for women with strollers to visit the shop and for passersby to see the window display.

Nancy Grovesnor, the manager of the boutique, said that women often don't have an opportunity to try on clothes because they are worried about overstaying their meter.

Campbell sees Charles Street being populated by nail salons, realtors and banks, and it's hurting the character of the street. First of all, it's impossible for boutiques to compete with the rents that banks can offer. Indeed, several small businesses, including Cibeline, Judith Dowling & Polly Latham Asian Art, Leslie Linsley Nantucket and Koo de Kir have closed recently or are planning to close. "I can't compete with a[n offer of] $10,000-a-month rent." 

But beside the rent issue, the real estate offices and banks don't encourage shoppers to stroll the street. "After the first block, it just becomes a rambling of assorted stuff," Campbell said. ""You don't need seven nails salons, you need two ... You need more stores like the darling little chocolate shops."

"It was supposed to be a neighborhood shopping street. I feel bad for Charles Street because it was so special, it was such a special street to shop, and now it's eroding." 

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