Clothier Robin Ritts is closing down the Robin Lyle boutique she’s operated across from the state Capitol in Sacramento for 29 years. But the lights won’t go out, she said, until her inventory is gone.
“Originally, I thought that would be June, and now I’m thinking March and possibly February,” she said. “I can leave whenever I want and stay as long as I want. That’s what my landlord says.”
The 60-year-old Ritts began calling her 200 most loyal clients about a week ago to let them know she planned to retire, she said. She still hadn’t made it through the list by Friday morning because word spread like wildfire, and well-dressed women from the halls of power at the Legislature, the Governor’s Office, the courts and local hospitals were swamping her store at 1123 11th St.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne W.L. Chang came in and bought up most of the size-2 outfits that Ritts had in stock when she heard about the pending closure. She arrived at the store around 5 p.m. Thursday, wearing a faux fur coat over a deep pink shift dress with black accents. She’d purchased both at Robin Lyle and described the boutique as her go-to store.
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“I come here, and ... I can usually find what I’m looking for,” she said. “It fits my style – sophisticated but easy to wear.”
While she doesn’t mind shopping, Chang said she doesn’t like the frustration that comes with searching for clothes that fit both her frame and her taste. Ritts knows both, Chang said, and if clothes need to be altered, she will pin and send them out to be done.
Ritts said too many U.S. designers are producing office attire that is too dowdy, too casual or too girlish for women who mean business, an observation that Chang seconded. Consequently, Ritts concentrates on filling Robin Lyle with the clothing lines that project the right image for her clients. She’s found many in Europe, Canada and in New York. The dress that Chang was wearing was from an Italian designer, the coat from a Canadian.
Ritts said she often orders apparel simply because she believes it will appeal to certain clients, and when the dresses, accessories or outfits arrive, she will call up to say, “I have a dress for just you.” Over the years, she said, you build trust and people come when you call.
That includes Chang, who said when she learned that Robin Lyle was closing, told her husband: “I have 10 more years to work. What am I going to do for clothes for the next 10 years?”
That’s why Ritts plans to continue doing personal shopping for a select group of clients after she retires, she said. She also plans to meet up regularly with the four women who work for her. Robin Lyle’s employees and its loyal customers have become Ritts’ personal friends over the years, she said, which allowed her to weather the ups and downs of the economy and state budgets.
“I want to leave when people will miss me,” Ritts said. “You never want to stay at the party until you’re the last person there. I want to leave when people say, ‘Oh, no, why are you going?’ instead of ‘Is she still in business?’ ”
Ritts has been working in the retail industry since she was 16, she said, and had no place to go but up after being fired from her first job at a fine jewelry business.
“I would call in and say, ‘I’m going to go sailing with my dad instead of coming to work, is that OK?’ ” she said. “And then I was so stunned when they fired me. I was like, ‘How could they possible fire me? I’m so great.’ ”
She learned her lesson, though, and worked full time in a retail job while earning her English degree from the University of Maryland. By the time she was 24, she was running her own retail store in San Francisco. She moved to Sacramento in 1983 when her then-husband got a job with the Legislative Analyst’s Office. A few years later, she opened Robin Lyle in the same spot as it is today.
Asked to name three pieces in her closet that she couldn’t live without, Ritts replied: her black leather leggings, a cashmere sweater and leather boots.
“I kind of live in that,” she said, “and it will be nice to live in that more often.”
Call The Bee’s Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193. Follow her on Twitter @CathieA_SacBee.