How does one go from politics and public relations to patterns and pleats? If you’re Liz Spratlin, you give life to an idea – and three years later – celebrate. The owner of Blithe and Vine is a mom and wife, but she’s also a dreamer and Fondren Corner retailer. With support from her family, her chic, casual ladies boutique turns three this week as she closes the door to what started it all.
In 2009, Cosmo Tots, a children’s retailer, became available and Spratlin’s cousin, Missy Mavar, wanted to buy the store started by Amanda Overby in 2005. Spratlin agreed but had another plan. “I always wanted to get into women’s retail,” she says. “Cosmo (Tots) came up, and I thought ‘maybe one day we’ll expand.’ Three months later, Max Furniture closed and space became available. What was once a 350 square foot children’s store would become a 1,200 square foot kids and ladies boutique.
Spratlin says operating two stores in one with three children and markets that take her to New York and L.A. is hard. That’s why, with cousin and partner Mavar moving, she has closed Cosmo Tots and will expand Blithe and Vine in the same space. “It’s tough to do both,” Spratlin explains. “I have wonderful women who work here part-time, but I do the buying, accounts receivable and payable, I sweep floors; I do everything.” And while the end of that era is sad, Spratlin says her passion is women’s retail. “It’s something we had to do.”
Born in Biloxi, Spratlin’s path to being a shopkeep came about in an unusual way. Just out of college, she moved to Washington, DC, worked for the Bush Quayle campaign in 1992 and then as Trent Lott’s press secretary from 1992-1998. Moving to Jackson in 1998, Spratlin worked in public relations for Maris, West and Baker before settling down and starting a family. Her husband, an attorney, supported a career change.
Spratlin knew she wanted her own store. “I didn’t want to wake up, kids grown, time passed, and never try,” she says. Buying Cosmo Tots with Mavar was the jumping in point. “It all just snowballed.” And experience? “(I have) no background. (Before three years ago), I’ve never worked a day in retail in my life,” she tells us. “Had I known how hard it is, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. I tell everyone: hanging clothes and fixing the store up is the tiniest part. But it’s all fun.”
Personal style is reflected in the merchandise Spratlin carries. “ I’m always looking for something different that I can’t find anywhere else in town,” she says. “We have a few dressy items, but mostly, stick to every day “going out” pieces.” She also offers in-home “closet consults” but says time works against her. “Time is my most valuable commodity,” she explains. “I would love to do more but I just can’t fit it all in.”
A rough economy aside, the business is growing. “I don’t know any different,” she says. Maybe it’s because Spratlin believes she earns every sale that walks through the door. “We’re not pushy – and it kind of works for us. I try to pay attention and give clients service.”
Those valued clients, old and new, will come together Thursday night, October 4, to mark the three-year point for Spratlin who hopes, years from now, she has no regrets. “I don’t want it to go away. But I could look back at conversations with my husband (about starting my own store) and say ‘I tried it, I did it.’”
Since the publication of this piece, Blithe & Vine has relocated to Fondren Village – between The Paper Place and Fondren Barbershop.