Mary Ellen Brown
As anyone who has worked in women’s clothing will attest, retail is a tough business. To run a successful boutique for a few years is an admirable feat, but to thrive for 40 years, well, that’s nothing short of remarkable.
Tomorrow marks the fortieth anniversary of Baltimore high-end women’s clothing boutique Ruth Shaw. The store opened in 1973 by namesake Ruth Shaw, a former tennis clothing designer and renowned local fashionista before it was even a word! She sold the boutique in 2008 to her long-time manager and buyer Ray Mitchener, who has run the store with the same commitment to quality merchandise, the latest trends, top designers and more, features that have made the store a Baltimore institution.
The upscale boutique will celebrate “Forty Fabulous Years of Fashion” Saturday night with cocktails at its Cross Keys location and 100 close friends, supporters and, of course, the 85-year-old original owner Ruth Shaw.
We caught up with current owner Ray Mitchener, who has played a huge role in establishing the store’s brand while helping to run the business for the last 35 years (he was a model for Versace, Ralph Lauren and others before). He is known and respected in the fashion industry and the store’s national reputation — it has been recognized as a fashion leader by Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and Lucky — has earned Ray access to the best and hottest European and American designers, and in the store, it shows!
He gave us a few insights into the secrets of his success…
You have kept a high-end designer business alive for 40 years in Baltimore, which is not a high-end designer town. What is your secret?
I think the real reason we have enjoyed such longevity is that we constantly change and evolve with our clients, listening to their wishes and demands and nurturing our relationships with them.
I am forever seeking the “next and now” in fashion and trying to bring it to Baltimore, keeping in mind that it has to be wearable and somewhat practical. I think the keys of staying in business for over forty years is staying relevant.
It is my greatest joy to help a woman discover more about herself through clothing.
Why did you decide to buy the boutique?
I bought the store in 2008 because, working with Ruth for so many years, it was a natural succession. I love what I do. I want to continue the legacy of Ruth Shaw.
What has changed about retail since you started working in it years ago?
The changes that have made the biggest impact on the fashion industry from my perspective are the accessibility of clothing through internet shopping, the fact that designers are accessible to the masses via product lines for Target, Kohls, Uniqlo, and others. Lastly, our relaxed dress codes have changed fashion, too.