ST. ALBANS CITY — Sue Lanoue’s earliest fashion memory is dressing her friends for grade school dances.
That’s the approach Lanoue now takes with Fashion $centz, her North Main Street boutique.
Listening to Lanoue speak, it’s clear that her business is a joy to her not so much because of the clothing, jewelry and accessories she stocks, but because of how they affect individual people.
For example, take Lanoue’s stocking philosophy.
She practically scoffed at the idea of rotating stock because an article of clothing has hung unsold for a while, because boots haven’t moved yet, because something was purchased a month or a year ago rather than a month ago.
If a piece hasn’t moved, Lanoue said, it’s not because the piece is wrong, or because it’s sat around too long. It’s because the right person hasn’t walked in yet.
“Everything in here has been hand-picked by me,” she said, “so nothing is ever old.
“I’m not the type that’s ever going to have a dollar sale and get rid of stuff.
Lanoue said she sold a pair of shoes, the week prior to our visit, that had been in the store for two or three years.
“And [the customer] loved them,” she said.
“In re-sale, you’ve got to be smart. You’ve got to know that nothing is ever old. Everyone walking through that door, it’s all new to them. …
“It will go. It does go.”
Lanoue is proud of her selection.
Lanoue’s offerings are as diverse as her customers, which she said range from “young girls up to elderly women.”
Fashion $centz offers items in sizes from 00 to 4X.
When Lanoue opened Fashion $centz five years ago, she could have bicycled around the space, an elegantly designed showroom with more breathing room than offerings.
Now a new customer might need a map to navigate the store’s luxurious aisles, stands and displays.
It’s easier to just ask Lanoue, who claims to have a complete mental inventory of her store’s vast offerings.
And Lanoue is always there. She’s her only employee.
If she’s not feeling well, or traveling, Lanoue posts an announcement on the Fashion $centz Facebook page.
Lanoue finds some of her favorite items abroad.
“While I’m out traveling, on vacation, I will go to really high-end places and I’ll find some really cool stuff,” Lanoue said.
“I ship a lot of stuff home.”
And Lanoue draws her own visitors from abroad.
“The men that come in here, especially men that are European … they’ll tell me, ‘I’ve been in many many places like this, all over the world, and I’ve never walked into one like this.’
“Now that, to me, is a compliment.”
She’s even drawn a celebrity: Michael J. Fox, who visited the store with Tracy Pollan, his wife, during the store’s first year. The Foxes were en route to Montreal.
“My future goal, if that could ever happen,” Lanoue said, “is I want to have someone who comes in this store, or I meet them some way, that is an actress, that has amazing things, and says, ‘Sue — I’ll send you boxes.’”
That all Fashion $centz offerings are pre-owned is a common misconception. They aren’t. Fashion $centz currently has a few brand new wedding dresses, for example.
And Lanoue meticulously cleans those items that come pre-owned. She said she steams everything with a professional steamer, and even cleans the shoes.
“I clean everything,” Lanoue said. “It is a lot of work, but I got it down now.”
Lanoue was born and raised in St. Albans.
She was a young mother, married right out of high school.
“But I always wanted to be a model,” she said.
Lanoue modeled for local businesses, then worked as a make-up artist for the ProMark Modeling Agency, teaching women how to use make-up.
She’s worked in photography and videography.
Lanoue said she became a Mary Kay director after one year with the company. She “gave that part up,” she said, and now works for Mary Kay as a consultant.
Lanoue also has a nail art business, Nailz by Sue, which she’s run for 28 years, offering manicures, French manicures, pedicures, fiberglass nail tips and wraps and makeup application.
She went to school for a month for Nailz by Sue.
“Everything else, I just jumped into it,” Lanoue said.
Which is what she wants her customers to do.
“Women need to know that when they come in here… they need to not even care about the prices,” Lanoue said. “They need to just pick whatever they want, and when they come to that counter with me, first I do the discount” — she spins a wheel offering random discounts up to 35 percent — “and if it’s still out of their budget, I work with everybody.”
Lanoue said she prices her items based on their value. But she’s enthusiastic about this point.
“Talk to me. Let me know what is in this store that you really, really like.
“I always tell people, please, don’t be embarrassed. Whatever you see you like, I want you to have it.”
Fashion $centz’s Facebook reviews are a string of raves: “The customer service was incredible,” “This is hands-down my absolute favorite clothing store on the planet,” “I am a secondhand shop hound and have been to hundreds throughout the U.S. and Canada… and this is my absolute favorite.”
Lanoue said a woman called her from Burlington, told Lanoue she is “a tiny size” and couldn’t find a dress for a Boston wedding.
She asked Lanoue if Fashion $centz carried dresses in the smallest sizes.
“I said, ‘Yes I do,’” Lanoue recalled. “‘You come right up here.’”
The woman did. She arrived at 6 p.m., as Lanoue was closing the store.
“But I didn’t care,” Lanoue said. “Because this woman had a need for something.
“I put her in like six, seven, eight dresses. And they all fit. She narrowed it down, she bought two.”
Lanoue said the woman told her, “I even went to Montreal and wasted a whole day up there.”
On another occasion, a woman from Saranac Lake spent two hours perusing the store, and finished hugging Lanoue, in tears.
“She said, ‘I’ve never, ever had a shopping experience like this in my life.’”
Lanoue said, “That’s what makes me happy.”
Fashion $centz is closed Tuesday and Sunday, and open Monday, 12 p.m.-6 p.m., Wednesday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursday and Friday, 12 p.m.-6 p.m. and Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
Call 309-4882 for more information.
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