(A/N: This story is about local ladies’s clothing shop that closed its doors for the final time in late July. It appeared in the June 23rd issue of the Reading Eagle.)
By Rosalba Ugliuzza, Reading Eagle correspondent
Janet Mutter has always been hands-on in helping her loyal customers look and feel beautiful. She will continue to do her job until the very last day.
For shoppers who didn’t receive a letter in the mail or email months ago announcing The Carriage House’s “Going Out of Business/Retirement” sale, they sure have gotten the memo now, as colorful signs clutter the store windows, indicating that after 17 years of upscale retail service, everything must go by Saturday, July 23.
The retail owner said her sad customers are wondering where they are going to shop now.
“We’ve tried to help them find a store that carries a certain brand that they like so that they can continue buying it,” she said. “They said they’ve just assumed I would always be here. It’s almost as hard for them as it is for me.”
The decision to close is bittersweet for Mutter, but she said she is ready to move on. Her lease expires in the beginning of August.
“It’s time for me to enjoy myself and to not have all the responsibilities,” she said.
In the meantime, shoppers can take advantage on buying anything in the store from clothing, accessories and fixtures to hangers and wall pictures. Discounted items range from 15% to 60% off. Formal dresses are currently 30% off and spring and summer clothing attire are 20% off.
The women’s clothing store is also holding a ticket drawing. Customers have a chance to win some fabulous prizes, including a Keurig coffee maker, a KitchenAid stand mixer and a 39-inch flat screen TV. Each shopper will be assigned a number and is eligible either by just entering the store, making a purchase, or referring a friend. The more times they come into the store, the more tickets they will receive. The ticket drawing will be held on Saturday, July 23.
So far, merchandise sales have gone far beyond expectation.
“They really have been fantastic,” said Mutter. “It was way beyond I expected … When I went to open, I was like, ‘Oh my God, what if nobody shows up?’”
Mutter’s passion for women’s fashion began as a young girl under the tutelage of her grandmother, Florence Gift. By age 15, the Boyertown native sewed flower girl dresses for the former Rose’s Bridal Shop in her hometown.
She took some sewing classes at Albright College. However, after graduating with a teaching degree, Mutter made a detour in her career path.
“I decided that while I was student teaching that I didn’t want to teach,” she said. “So I had to be creative and started interviewing for positions that my degree didn’t qualify me for.”
For 15 years, she worked in the human resources department at UGI Utilities, Inc. Working there provided an incentive for her future.
“I could take the skills I learned about the laws of having employees and benefits and apply them to my employees,” she said.
Two weeks after leaving UGI, she worked Robert Scott & David Brooks, a large outlet store that was located at the former Reading Station on Sixth Street. She quit in 1998 to begin her dream job.
“I finally decided that if I was going to do retail and if I was going to be doing the hours, I was going to do it for myself,” Mutter said.
The Beginning of The Carriage House
The Carriage House was opened in 1999 in West Reading. Mutter said she was pleased with the buzz it had received, but there was one major flaw: lack of parking.
“I didn’t have a location with a parking lot so my customers had to park along the street,” she said. “I heard too many times, ‘I was going to stop, but I couldn’t find a parking space so I kept going.’ That’s not what you want to hear as a storeowner.”
In 2010, Mutter resolved the issue by moving to its current location at the Village Square Shopping Center in Wyomissing.
Over the years, the retail business has been called the miniature version of Donecker’s, the upscale clothing and furniture store in Ephrata, Lancaster County that closed in 2008, because of its clothing merchandise made by high-end manufacturers like Pendleton, Ribkoff and Lyman.
“When I opened, that’s what everybody told me because they were still in business at that time,” Mutter said.
What has made her store different from other ladies’ clothing store is the quality customer service. Mutter and her four part-time employees have gotten to know their customers well. She calls them her “best advertisement.”
“We’ll check in with our customers in the dressing room. We’ll go out and get different sizes for them or say, ‘Here try these, I think they’ll look better on you,’” she said. “I always say if they feel good with what they have on they are going to carry themselves completely differently and they’re going to be a great advertisement for me.”
The retail business has created generations of customers. With weeks to go until the last day, Mutter knows how hard it will be to say goodbye.
“They’ve become like family,” she said. “I was very lucky. Very fortunate.”