Nicopoulos opened the first clothing store with her friend Renee Robins, who now operates Frock Candy shops in Mandeville (1281 N. Causeway Blvd., Mandeville, 985-727-9779) and Destin, Fla.
'We were naive and gung-ho when we opened the first store,' Nicopoulos says. 'We got such a great response, especially from locals. They were coming from all over the place to visit this little place in the Quarter. [Robins] opened the one in Mandeville. From there it just started blossoming.'
After receiving an overwhelmingly positive response to the small selection of shoes she placed in the clothing stores, Nicopoulos decided to follow the same business plan of fun, fashionable, affordable footwear when opening Shoe Nami. She partnered with her sister, Theodora Cullen, and opened a spacious store in Metairie. Within a year, the two had expanded to Magazine Street and, more recently, the French Quarter.
'Sometimes I feel like I bit off more than I could chew,' Nicopoulos says, 'but we've gotten a really good response. We feel like we're filling some kind of void here in New Orleans. When we first opened, it was like a fashion wasteland. There wasn't much out there except for the mall or a few expensive little boutiques. We feel like we've opened this niche for ourselves in terms of affordable clothing that is of the moment.'
The secret ingredient in the businesses' success is the fun factor. The clothing and shoes selections as well as the layout of the stores are focused on customers really enjoying their fashion excursions.
'When we came up with the concept, the whole point was to have fun,' she says. 'It's the whole experience (of shopping), not just the end product. I think women understand that more than men. We made it so that you could try on as many shoes as you want, run around barefoot, and have fun with it.'
As for more expansions, Nicopoulos says she's ready to take a break from the manic pace of the past four years. 'We're always thinking ahead, but for awhile, that will be it for us. We want to be established. Three in a year is quite an accomplishment; I think we need to slow it down a bit.'
Relax and Stay Awhile Holiday Inn has opened Staybridge Suites (501 Tchoupitoulas St., 571-1818), an upscale, extended-stay hotel in the Central Business District. The 18-story, 144,000-square-foot facility -- the largest Staybridge Suites in North America -- opened April 15 and features 182 studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom suites.
Each suite, which includes complimentary high-speed Internet access and direct-dial phone numbers, is equipped with a refrigerator, microwave, stove, dishes, cookware, utensils and dishwasher. The rooms also have desks with data ports, and the hotel offers 24-hour business services as well as meeting space, complimentary breakfasts, laundry and workout facilities.
Opening the Gate to Nonprofits
The Garden Gate, which offers garden and home decor as well as gifts and jewelry, is allowing select nonprofit groups to use its location at 2918 Metairie Road, Metairie (833-6699) as a special events venue for no charge.
Garden Gate owner Chad Harris says he came up with the idea as a way to give something back to the community. 'By providing a place for local charities and organizations to hold fundraisers and other events, we not only learn about several important issues, we can become intimately involved,' he says.
The Metairie Road location already has played host to a benefit concert for the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. The grounds include a charming cottage, which serves as a retail store for Garden Gate, and landscaped outdoor gardens.
Big and Beautiful
Business savvy and customer satisfaction are credited for Salon du Beau Monde, owned by Dallas Alleman, being named one of the 200 fastest-growing salons in the country by the beauty industry publication Salon Today.
The magazine compiled its 2004 Salon Today 200 list after applications submitted by its readers. The list represents the top-producing salons in the country, based on the highest increases in gross sales between 2001-2002 and studied projections of significant sales increases for 2003. Editor Laurel Smoke attributed the continued improvements in a rocky economy on creative marketing, tight budgeting and savvy business skills. To be considered for the honor, a salon had to generate gross annual sales of at least $100,000 and show a significant increase during the past three years.