Words tumble out of Tiffany Miller’s mouth as she talks about relocating Sweet River Boutique to Covington’s Downtown Square. Her partner and fiancé Bill Bates is a bit more laconic, but it’s obvious he shares the excitement.
“We wanted to be part of the Renaissance of the Square,” said Bates. “I grew up in Covington and I remember going to the pharmacy and getting drinks. People walked the Square then.”
He said he would buy bubble gum at one of the stores for a penny a piece, then turn around and sell it at school for 25 cents.
That entrepreneurial spirit continues today. The owner of Greenworks Landscaping, Bates was the one to encourage Miller to expand her business to a retail store after her business.
The business started when Tiffany Miller found it impossible to work after the birth of her now-2-year-old son, River, and even more impossible to sit still for long.
She started designing “blanks,” girls’ clothes, ages 6 months to 10 years, made of fabrics such as seersucker, cotton and knit cottons, often with ruffles at the hems or sleeves. A blank area makes it possible for someone to embroider or appliqué designs on the outfit. The blanks are sold wholesale to retailers around the country. Miller doesn’t sell them locally.
The business was wildly successful, and within three months, had outgrown the home Miller shared with Bates, River and her two children from a previous marriage, Talon Millard, 9, and Landyn Millard, 12.
She moved the business just down the road into the back of Johnny’s New York Pizza on the Covington Bypass. “I never expected it to take off,” Miller said.
It was Bates who encouraged her to open a retail space in the storefront next to the pizza parlor, where she began selling women’s and children’s clothing.
“The whole retail thing was not in my plans,” she said.
“I think I had a bigger vision [of the business] than she did. I think she can do more than she think she can,” Bates said.
Not only are the couple working together to open the new retail space, they are planning a wedding for June.
The store employs two full-time and two part-time staff. Additional staff — one full-time and one part-time — will be hired for the new store.
Like Miller, all of sales clerks have children, and there is an area in the corner of the store set up for kids. That kid-friendly attitude will continue as Miller and Bates move their store onto the Square and add a men’s department, Rough River Boutique.
Sweet River and Rough River Boutiques will be on the Square, located next to Your Pie in part of the old Mayfield building. In getting the store ready for its new incarnation, Miller and Bates opted to leave the old brick walls exposed, restore the glass windows over the front display windows and doors; retain three industrial fans at the back of the retail space and keep the dark wood display shelves.
Space for the original business — the shipping of clothing blanks to wholesale customers — will be in the back of the store. So, too, will an area, similar to one already in place at the existing store, where Miller’s son, and other children can play.
“We’re very kid oriented,” said Miller. “All the employees have children, so we understand that kids touch things ... it’s a kid-friendly, family-business.”
“It’s one of the reasons we wanted to bring men’s stuff in,” Bates said.
“Make it a one stop shop,” Miller agreed.
“We’ve heard complaints from people that in order to buy clothing, you have to drive somewhere else,” Bates said. “We’re trying to bring clothes here.”
Sweet River Boutique will carry Girlie Girl, Lauren James, Simply Southern Shirts and Mud Pie. There will also be Scout bags and Chavez bracelets, which donates 25 percent of the cost of each bracelet to a charity identified by the color of the beads.
Rough River Boutique will carry Columbia, Vineyard Vines, Coastal Cotton, Southern Point, Southern Proper, Haybo, Swamp Shine and Fish Hippie. Bates calls the latter, “Preppie hippie.”
“It’s hot right now,” Bates said.
She also said they would personalize anything, including clothes, cups, jewelry and vinyl decals.
One store opens, another closes
Because Spires, which is in the process of closing, carries Vera Bradley, Miller said they would carry only a limited amount of the line, those items the other shop isn’t carrying such as fragrance. Once Spires closes, Sweet River will carry the full Vera Bradley line.
“I hope to bring something back to the Square that’s leaving with the closing of Spires,” Miller said. “We’re [very] excited about the events on the Square, like Fourth of July and Christmas. We are looking forward to being part of the Square.”
Though aware of the complaints that parking is difficult and that sometimes filming shuts down the square, neither Miller nor Bates seem concerned.
“If you’re already coming to the square, you can expect to walk,” Miller said, adding she thinks the city is working to address the problem.
“There’s so much more to do now with the pub and other restaurants,” Bates said
They give a nod of appreciation to Covington’s mayor, Ronnie Johnston, for the revitalization of the city’s historic downtown. “I think he really has a vision for the square. I think he wants all the businesses here to succeed,” Bates said.
As for filming, Miller said, “It has put Covington on the map.”
Bates agreed, adding, “It’s created jobs for so many people. Families are being supported. It’s not all negative.”
Support from community
Both Bates and Miller are thrilled with the welcome and support they’re receiving from the business community, the city and the Main Street members.
“They’ve been so awesome about helping us get ready,” Bates said. “It feels like being part of a family.”
A little more than a week before the scheduled Saturday, March 5 opening, electricians, carpenters, and other crews were busy getting the store ready.
“The construction will be finished in time,” Bates said. “We’re going to make it happen. The [construction crews] have been awesome. So has Lee Mayfield [owner of the building]. He’s really bent over backwards to help us meet the time line.”
In preparing for the move, Sweet River is selling off the clothes it has in stock; anything left when it’s time to move into the new location will be given to Repairer’s of the Breach/Rainbow House.
Brady Henderson is planning an event for Thursday, March 3 in the evening; people who own stores on the Square and others have been invited.
The Grand Opening is March 5, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Ten percent of the day’s profits will be given to the Rainbow House/Garden of Gethsemane; 5 percent of the rest of the month’s profits will also be donated to Rainbow House.
Tiffany said they were looking at ways they could continue to make similar types of donations.