Ooh La La, which opened at Blue Back Square in West Hartford in 2011, will close on June 12.
By Ronni Newton
In May 2021, Darlene Salonia was celebrating the 10th anniversary of the opening of Ooh La La, the Blue Back Square boutique offering “affordable and adorable” clothing, but even when customers arrived for a special sale and joined a Prosecco toast, it was a bit bittersweet because she knew the store was going to close soon.
âIt breaks my heart,â Salonia said two weeks later, when she announced that the store would close permanently on or before June 12.
âI didn’t want to sell the store. It was my âlove project,â she said. After spending nearly 30 years working in advertising and marketing for the state’s then nascent cable industry, she fulfilled her dream by opening Ooh La La on Memorial Road.
âI love having an idea, twisting it and transforming it to make it special,â said Salonia, and that’s what she did when she opened the store. She wanted to help girls with their body image by empowering them.
âI’ve always wanted to own a business, but wanted to find something that I really liked. I took a leap of faith and I did it, âshe said of opening Ooh La La. She stuck to her business plan of keeping the merchandise. keeping cool – by ordering just six items and not rearranging – and stocking a variety of clothing and accessories. that would appeal to guests ranging in age from teenagers to seniors.
She has helped dress women and girls for milestones – graduation ceremonies, birthdays, Bat Mitzvahs, showers. âI am honored to share these life events,â said Salonia, knowing that many will always remember what they wore on those big days.
Ooh La La has also employed around 60 people over the past 10 years, many of them college students. âI have had some of the most amazing women,â she said.
She enjoyed organizing events and supporting fundraising for local nonprofits, like ‘Sista Soccer’ which was an effort by the Division I women’s football program at Hartford University to collect used football equipment for girls in need.
Ooh La La has attended the Susan G. Komen Foundation Pink Party every year in Blue Back Square, and Salonia said it was probably his favorite event due to the strong support group he created, empowering everyone. those who were involved in it.
Getting involved with Miss Connecticut probably led to her “biggest surprise,” Salonia said, and completely changed her perception of contests. âI was so surprised to see how wonderful these young women were,â she said, recalling Bridget Oei, Miss Connecticut 2018, who had five patents, was a famous Irish dancer and was a student in medicine.
Amid the pandemic, the store moved from Memorial Road to 55 Isham Rd., Across from the Cheesecake Factory, but despite the storefront being closed for several months and the location less visible, the business continued. to prosper. âIt wasn’t a financial decision,â Salonia said of the fence.
One of the things Salonia said she liked about Isham’s location was the large community table, which she planned to use during fundraisers for the community organizations she hoped to host afterwards. COVID.
Instead, it was a confluence of factor factors – largely because it wanted to stay open just another year but the owner, in the middle of Blue Back Square changing hands, wanting a long-term commitment. – which led to an inability to enter into a new lease. She was determined not to sell the business and was considering moving outside of Blue Back or even to another city, but also decided not to. The management of Blue Back Square, she said, has been wonderful, and they consider them as family and love the city too.
âI have always loved the strong sense of belonging to the West Hartford community,â she said.
The retail industry has changed a lot over the past 10 years, as has Blue Back Square. While there was e-commerce in 2011, it wasn’t like now, and back then there were a lot more retailers in the mall encouraging people to browse. Ooh La La ended up being the only women’s clothing store.
During the pandemic, she stepped up her social media and found different ways to interact with customers, including using FaceTime. She remembered one customer in particular who called on a Friday and said her daughter was coming to town and was getting married on Sunday. Salonia hooked up with the girl via FaceTime and helped her find a dress she wore a few days later for the little family ceremony.
âThere is a next chapter for me,â said Salonia, who is a master gardener and said she might want to do something related to the outdoors. She’s not sure what it will be, but her grown children live in Boston and she would like to live closer to them.
Businesses like Ooh La La are important to the local economy and the community as a whole, Salonia said.
Even as the business prepared to close, Salonia had a place for merchandise from The Perfect Stitch – dog bandanas that were used to raise funds for the Connecticut Humane Society. She said she wished she could do even more to support the community.
Ooh La La will close by June 12 – or sooner if everything is sold out before then. The entire store is now enjoying a 60% discount, and Salonia hopes to have the chance to say goodbye to as many of its customers and former employees as possible.
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