CHAMBERSBURG – “Hi, guys! It is our Wednesday Live, and we are live in the new store!”
The Facebook Live video opens with a tight shot of Brittani Black’s face with her arms stretched towards the camera as if she is taking a selfie. Once the camera is secure and she is confident that the video has started, she steps back revealing a backdrop of hard wood flooring, track lighting and racks of clothing.
She reaches up towards the camera once more and pivots it slightly revealing Cortney Hanks at a laptop who looks up at the camera and smiles.
Black stares into the camera briefly as the viewer count continues to climb; scanning their comments and greeting people as they introduce themselves.
After a few quick announcements – their new internet connection and their new storefront – they start introducing their new merchandise.
“First up, guys, we have this super cute cowl neck hoodie here,” says Black indicating the top that she is wearing.
“It is super soft, has an olive color here with a very, very light green – it’s almost like a green underlay with an off-white over top – but really cute. It is long in the back, it is true-to-size, and like I said, it is a cowl neck – so there’s no hood, but it has the beige-colored strings.”
She picks up an identical top from off camera and displays it.
It’s very, very comfy. Soft. We have small through large. It is thirty-one dollars, guys, thirty-one dollars. Stay true-to-size. Thirty-one dollars. Small through large. Eight. Nine. Seven.”
She holds the tag up to the camera so viewers can clearly see the number 897.
“If you’re new with us, the way to shop is that you just comment the number that we say, the size that you want and if you don’t have an account with us, you head to www.blackblushboutique.com, you make an account, and that’s how we invoice you.”
She exits screen left, and Hanks moves to the foreground. She starts describing the top she is wearing.
“Okay, this is a half-zip, cheetah-print top with a white bottom….”
As they work through the night’s inventory – simultaneously hosting, modeling and processing orders – the comments section lights up with fans congratulating them on their new brick-and-mortar storefront, questions about specific materials, and the number and size of the merchandise they want – often punctuated with the word “sold.”
Over the course of the thirty-six-minute session (slightly shorter than their average) Black and Hanks will rack up more than twenty orders that can be shipped directly to the viewers or they can be picked up in person at Black & Blush Boutique (81 N. Main St.) in downtown Chambersburg.
With their new retail shop, Hanks and Black bring trendy and affordable clothing for the everyday woman – from casual to dressy – to downtown Chambersburg’s rapidly developing northside.
The boutique is joining a neighborhood that already includes Northwood Books (59 N. Main St.), Bistro 71 (71 N. Main St.) and Vanity Parlor (75 N. Main St.), and is bookended by Brussel’s Café (55 N. Main St.) and the Council for the Arts’ newly renovated gallery space (103 N. Main St.).
Hanks and Black, sisters and co-owners of Black & Blush Boutique, officially launched the store digitally in January of 2019; selling clothing almost exclusively through social media and their website.
One year later, they celebrated the opening of their brick-and-mortar storefront with a January 31 ribbon cutting, and their fans came out in full force to support them: the line to get in stretched down the block.
In a world seemingly “gone digital,” it might seem counterintuitive for a company that has garnered so much brand loyalty online to go physical, but the storefront is a natural extension of their growth, and, in some ways, it is even a necessity.
As Hanks explained:
“We found that we did really well when we would have open house events where people could actually come and try the clothes and feel them, and we found that 80% of our business was local. If you put those two things together, it was a no-brainer.”
Then it was just a matter of figuring out where to put it.
When the sisters, along with Cortney’s husband Brian Hanks, initially toured the downtown with Sam Thrush, the president of Downtown Chambersburg, Inc., Brian (who is currently serving with the US Army in Afghanistan as a Chinook pilot) stopped in front of the space and said, “Hey, if you can get in this spot, this is where you want to be. This is the perfect place. I can envision it.”
And the sisters agreed.
“It was the perfect space for us. Perfect size. The whole vibe of it with the exposed brick and wood floor was exactly what we were going for,” recalled Hanks.
There was only one problem: it wasn’t available.
So they continued to do the live sales on Facebook, and they continued to look at other spaces, but nothing compared to 81 N Main St. When they were eventually tipped off that the Council for the Arts was moving, they didn’t hesitate. [The Council for the Arts moved to a beautiful, newly-renovated space at 103 N. Main St.]
“I got word that that the council was moving, and I immediately jumped on it and made sure we were going to get this space,” said Hanks.
To finish the interior, Hanks used skills she developed while doing visual merchandising for Victoria’s Secret to make sure that the sales floor was as carefully curated as the inventory. The fixtures are all custom built including the cash wrap counter and a window seat with a shelving unit that were designed by Rust & Restored.
Cortney and Brittani are enamored with the boutiques and styles of Colorado and California, and the result is a city atmosphere for a Chambersburg budget.
Additionally, the pictures positioned throughout the space feature local models, and they were taken by a local photographer (Pretty Faces by Sasha).
For Brittani Black, the path to business ownership started with a side hustle selling clothing for the direct sales giant LuLaRoe.
“I realized through that that I really wanted to expand and do things that I love with clothing and fashion, that I wanted to go in a different direction,” says Black who considers her direct sales experience good practice for Black & Blush.
“It definitely helped me get where I knew I wanted to go with the customer base and what I needed to do,” she said.
Then she approached her sister with the idea of starting their own company.
“In my mind, being able to bring my sister into it and have a family-owned business was something that I wanted to strive for versus working for myself,” said Black. “It has made our relationship so much better, and it’s a great work atmosphere.”
Hanks, who was also doing a home-based business at the time, told her that she’d be willing to go in on it with her, saying, “If we’re going to do this, let’s go ahead and do it together.”
“My sister and I are the only employees,” she continued. “That’s nice because when you come in, you’re going to see one of us and not just random people.”
Whether customers are walking in off of the street or picking something up that they bought during a live sale, the personal connection allows Hanks and Black to make suggestions and recommendations: “We just got something in, and I think you’re going to love it.”
“When you walk in that door, we can know you by name,” said Hanks who expressed disappointment and frustration with the depersonalized shopping experience of chain stores.
At Black & Blush, “You immediately get some one-on-one attention, and you can come in here and feel like you’re shopping with friends.”
Their hands-on arrangement also allows them to personally travel to shows and interact directly with their wholesalers.
“We get to touch it, feel it, and then be able to choose what we like and what we don’t like, which is really nice because then we get to form relationships with these wholesalers and learn from there who like to deal with and who is a really good company go for,” said Black.
By listening to both sides – the customers and the wholesalers – as well as each other, the sisters are able to curate an inventory that flatters every body type (up to XXXL) because “everybody has a different body shape, so we want to appeal to every shape.”
A third advantage to their brick-and-mortar location is that it provides them with a bit of work-life separation.
“They way we used to work it was that when you purchased via a live sale,” explained Hanks, “you had the option to either pick it up or have it shipped to you depending on where you lived, and people used to pick it up at our houses. Now that we have the storefront, it kind of eliminates that. When I leave the store now, I can leave and spend time with my family. We’re excited about that because it’s actually going to be a little bit freeing for our families.”
The paradox of revitalizing a downtown business district is that it requires a critical mass of businesses to be successful, but somebody has to go first.
And those businesses who go first bear most of the risk because they don’t know who – if anyone – will show up.
“I’m hopeful, but I’ll be very honest with you, I think what it takes is people coming in to open a business with sheer faith that it’s going to grow,” she said. “If you have faith that downtown is going to be revitalized and you, yourself, want to invest in that, then that’s what it’s going to take.”
She holds Alex Hemeryckx of Brussel’s Café and Amer Chaudhry of Falafel Shack (9 N. Main St.) up as examples.
“They really have a sheer investment in the community, which in turn has made them successful businesses because of it. I think if we continue that, it’s really going to ‘up’ the downtown vibe.”
[Main image caption: Black & Blush Boutique’s co-owners (and sisters) Cortney Hanks and Brittani Black pose behind the counter of their new Main Street clothing store.]