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The Boutique Ladies – Fashion with an Accent of Community Service

Sure, your job is great, but it’s not like there’s a waiting list.

Unless you’re a “boutique lady.”

And for those of you hoping for a slot on said list, sorry, the women who work at this store within a store aren’t going anywhere. Many of them have worked at the Stein Mart boutique since the day it opened more than 11 years ago in the Highland Centre shopping plaza near Harris Teeter on Raeford Road. In fact, there are waiting lists at Stein Mart boutiques scattered across the country.

There is an obvious perk to the job – one required day of work a week. Daytime hours and a nice discount don’t hurt either. But there’s also one very important job requirement: community service.

Betsy Dixon is boutique leader at the Fayetteville store and not even she can name all of the non-profit organizations her “bou ladies” belong to, so she ticks off a few: Fayetteville Animal Protection Society, Arts Council of Fayetteville/Cumberland County, Cape Fear Regional Theatre, CARE Clinic, Junior League and the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra. The idea is that the women will spread the word about Stein Mart in their communities. In turn, they can offer customers news about the latest events and fashion, of course.

Let’s face it, though these women do good works, Dixon freely admits, “We’re all addicted to clothes.”

Dixon and her husband moved to Fayetteville when his job brought them to North Carolina. She had been shopping at Stein Mart for years, in Little Rock, Ark., and Louisville, Ky. She loved the store’s fashionable, but reasonably priced, outfits. The boutique offers clothes for all occasions, from outfits appropriate for work to dresses fit for a fancy Christmas party. It’s a small section of the store, but Dixon and the other women will roam the entire place to find just the right necklace, scarf or earrings to match. The Stein Mart boutique retains the kind of customer service that once was a hallmark of most large department stores but seems hard to find these days.

When women try clothes on at Stein Mart, “We’ll tell you the truth,” Dixon said.

There is little that can intimidate a boutique lady. They have lost track of the number of times mothers have walked in and said, “I’m looking for a dress for my daughter’s wedding – tomorrow.” Female soldiers will come dressed in BDUs and leave in gowns dressed for a military ball that very night.

Paige Naylor has been shopping at Stein Mart for years and volunteered as a model during the boutique’s fashion show last spring. “I love the fact that you have help in there,” she says about the boutique. “You walk in and there they stand ready to help you.

“They are familiar faces – half of them go to church with me. You see them at the Junior League, everywhere. There are military ladies on Fridays, and I think that’s a real plus.”

The women working in the boutique on Fridays are almost always military wives. Maureen McNeill is one of them, and you could say she’s on her third “tour of duty” at Stein Mart. As her husband, Gen. Dan K. McNeill, has moved to and from Fayetteville with his job in the Army, she has left and come back to Stein Mart three times.

“It keeps me connected to my friends downtown and my friends at Bragg,” she says. “They’re so sweet, welcoming me back each time.

“My husband refers to it as a sorority,” she says, laughing. “It is, in a way. We work there, but it’s also a social place. We shop, we visit, we catch up. We get to know our customers.”

Jay Stein once called the “boutique ladies” the secret weapon of Stein Mart. Stein’s grandfather opened the first store in Greenville, Miss., in 1907. About 70 years later, his grandson created the boutique program. Today, Stein Mart has stores all over the United States and has never needed to advertise for “boutique ladies.”

After all, it might just be the best job in town.