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Little Shop of Wonders 

Perhaps a comfortable shop where several generations of women can shop for clothes together is not a pressing necessity, but for Anthony and Gina Cross that ideal became the mother of invention for Il Negozio (3607 Magazine St., 269-0130), which carries fashion-forward apparel and accessories in a range of styles and prices.

With an eye toward high fashion, the store carries items that range from $30 to several hundred for a variety of occasions from business and dressy to jeans-and-T-shirt casual. Although it does carry some exclusive designers, the focus is more on providing an enjoyable experience than competing with upscale boutiques and high-priced national chains.

"It is different than other boutiques," Anthony says of Il Negozio, which in Italian means "the shop." "It's designed to be a little bit more of an eclectic mix of clothing for a mother-and-daughter type of shopping experience. You can find anything from dresses to career suits to weekend kind of clothes."

Housed in an 1881 house that previously was a bed and breakfast, Il Negozio offers a personal shopping experience where the merchandise is displayed in several rooms instead of one open showroom, and the staff can guide shoppers to outfits that jibe with their personal style. For those who like more privacy, there are upstairs fitting rooms where they can take their time and linger in front of the mirror undisturbed.

"We really wanted to create an atmosphere that was relaxed and comfortable," Anthony says. "That's why we wanted to open in a house instead of a strip mall."

In addition to jeans, casual shirts and blouses, dresses, suits and other apparel, Il Negozio also carries shoes, jewelry, body products and handbags -- something for everyone. The handbags, most of which come from Los Angeles, have become the consistent best sellers for the shop and are snatched up as soon as they hit the shelves.

In stocking the store, the Crosses have searched out a good mix of styles -- both have a keen eye for fashion and fit -- and cover the fashion bases their customers want without trying to be everything to everybody. They carry respected designers such as Vivienne Tam, Cynthia Steffe, William B, Chaiken, BGBG and Louis Verdad as well as less upscale brands.

"It's not all designer wear," Anthony says. "The price points range from $30 T-shirts to $600 suits, with lots in between. That's one of the things that makes us unique; we're not trying to be one-stop shopping, but it's nice to have the option (of buying a suit and jeans at the same time). We have grandmothers and teenagers as customers; there's not one particular group or age range we cater to. We have some exclusive designers, but instead of focusing on unique brands, we try to focus on our presentation."

It seems to work. Since opening less than two years ago, Il Negozio already has a firm base of regular customers that come from as far away as Jackson, Miss., and as near as a few blocks. "Most of our business is repeat business," he says. "We have people who will drive in from out of town to spend the day and others from down the street who will call and have us pull things for them in their sizes and put them upstairs for them to try on at their own pace. It is very relaxed."

The creation of the store was an answer to Gina's search for a fun place to shop. "Part of it was born out of my wife and her friends complaining there was no place to shop ... that was comfortable and you were treated well even if you weren't going to spend hundreds of dollars," says Anthony. "We saw the need to fill that gap and provide a comfortable environment. The whole idea is therapeutic shopping, where you can feel good about it."

Eventually the Crosses plan to open a second location, but have decided against trying to franchise the concept despite interest from people outside the area. "We're still so young, we're not ready to move the concept somewhere else," he says.

Sassy Send-offs

Brides and attendants seeking a different type of bachelorette party can look to Arc Entertainment's Bride's Night Out parties to create evenings they won't soon forget.

Produced by 15-year veteran comic, New Orleans native and reality television producer Pamela Yager, the parties are hosted by a professional comedian and are based on unique themes such as Brides Night Out-Survivor and Bride's Night Out-Scavenger Hunt. In the first, guests are transported by limousine to hot spots, where they perform "challenges," which can range from serenades to having strangers autograph their bodies. The Scavenger Hunt party includes a hunt for sexy and fun prizes with the final prize being the groom and his friends.

For information or to book a party, contact Arc Entertainment at (866) WE-LAUGH (935-2844).

click to enlarge Il Negozio staff member Michele Oelking (left) and - owners Anthony and Gina Cross provide women of - all ages a comfortable shopping experience in a - 100-year-old Uptown house.
  • Il Negozio staff member Michele Oelking (left) and owners Anthony and Gina Cross provide women of all ages a comfortable shopping experience in a 100-year-old Uptown house.
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