Cathie Anderson

3 boutiques create fashion market in Sacramento’s Handle District

In 2006, Felicia Strati opened a fashion boutique in an area of town that wasn’t so fashionable and her loyal following let her have it: “Why are you here? Who’s going to come over here? Don’t you see the homeless people?”

The retail industry veteran stayed put despite the protest and became the magnet that drew two other shops – Heart Boutique and LadyBuggz – to the corner of Capitol Avenue and 19th Street.

“I’m part of the revitalization of this area,” Strati told me. “People were really pooh-poohing me in the beginning.”

Strati’s shop lies in an area that is now known as The Handle District. The same year that Strati opened her doors, Patrick Mulvaney launched Mulvaney’s B&L and Ginger Hahn opened Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates. The area also attracted the 58 Degrees and Holding wine bar, Devine Gelateria and The Press. It was Strati’s shop, however, that made Vanessa Lopez consider locating her Heart Boutique in the district six years ago. Zheng Chan and Lily Zhang followed suit with Ladybuggz in 2011.

“Felicia’s store made it look more like a shopping area,” Lopez said. “If there was nothing else around, I would have been the only one. It made sense since she was there. That was a big deal. I thought, ‘Well, she’s been there for a while, so it must be working.’ 

Lopez, a graduate of Sacramento High School, worked for Getta Clue owners Justin Bilbao and Scott Gilbert for years before she struck out on her own, and they continue to support one another. Chan and Zhang, both natives of China, had boutiques in their homeland: Chan in Guangzhou, Zhang in Shanghai. They met in English language classes at the Fremont School in midtown Sacramento and discovered they shared common business interests.

Strati, a Greek immigrant, has worked for Lerner’s, Franco Ferrini, Victoria’s Secret, Nordstrom and other retailers around the Sacramento region. She longed to import European fashions to the Sacramento region, she said, because so many of her customers complimented her attire, clothes she had purchased while visiting family back home.

“Felicia definitely has a little bit older customers,” Lopez said. “Everything is imported. It’s a little bit more high end. I’m definitely the middleman, for sure. My customer tends to be a little younger. I have the 18- to 32-year-old market nailed down here in this store. And, then Lily, she has a mix of both of our clients. She’s got young and older, business and casual customers. I think we complement each other, so the mother, daughter and grandchild can all shop in our stores.”

Strati said she found her space at 1901 Capitol Ave. with the assistance of her longtime friend, Sacramento-based fashion designer Richard Hallmarq. He knew Strati had been looking in Roseville, Granite Bay and midtown for a spot for her store, she explained, and when the landlord approached him to ask about potential tenants, Hallmarq suggested giving Strati a call.

She got the news after she had already begun negotiating for a spot elsewhere, she said, but she drove to the location, parked across the street, counted all the windows and scouted the foot traffic. With the right merchandising, Strati said, she figured the location could be a success. She started her business the year before the Great Recession, she said, and still, sales rose every year. Over the years, she said, she had built up a clientele – doctors, politicians and others whose careers or lifestyles demanded a sense of style – and they followed her from one store to the next because they trusted her judgment.

Farewell to Roseville’s ASR

Harwinder Bisla wrote to tell me that his Roseville restaurant, ASR Restaurant & Lounge, will be closing on July 30. Careful readers of this column will recall that Bisla used the first initials of his three children – Amran, Simran and Reena – as the basis for his restaurant’s name. In 2014, Bisla told me that he had invested roughly $3 million to build the upscale eatery.

Bisla recently posted a note to restaurant patrons on the ASR website, advising them that he would continue to honor gift cards and discounts until the restaurant’s closure.

“During the past two years I have built an amazing team,” Bisla said. “Without them ASR would be nothing. They have worked by my side through the rough patches and helped us finally secure the footing we have today. However success does not come without sacrifice. I have spent upwards of 100 hours per week just to reach this level of success. This has put an enormous amount of pressure on me and my family. The closing of ASR will not make up for lost time however it will allow me the opportunity to spend more time with the people I love the most, my children.”

The restaurant will close July 3-4 in observance of the Fourth of July holiday. Effective July 5, ASR will be closed for lunch Monday through Friday but will open at 3 p.m. for happy hour and serve dinner at 5 p.m. Other service, including weekend brunch and the late-night lounge, will continue at regularly scheduled hours until closing.

Cathie Anderson: 916-321-1193, @CathieA_SacBee