Retail and relationships meet at Lolo Boutique

“Good guy, Denny. He gives me my shoes,” Brett says. “We’re the same size,” he adds with a laugh.

I recognize Brett because I’m downtown all the time for work, and we’ve gotten to know each other a bit. He sleeps outside, and despite our very different backgrounds, we enjoy one another. He’s always quick with a knowledgeable local sports reference or a joke.

Right now, he’s talking about our mutual friend Denny LaRue, co-owner of Lolo Boutique with wife Lainey. I’ve noticed that Brett earns a bit of money keeping the sidewalks clean outside Lolo, a downtown store known for uncommon women’s fashions, accessories, gifts, and home goods. Apparently Brett also picks up some foot-fashion at the store, from Denny.

To me, it’s no surprise. I do some photography and marketing for Lolo, so I’m in the store every few months. During my visits, I’m always struck by little glimpses of community I see forming around the staff, customers, and neighbors. I also love seeing Lainey and Denny out at YWCA fundraisers -- investing in women and empowering survivors in our city. On a recent stop, I sat down with the two shop owners to ask about what they’ve enjoyed most about owning Lolo for nearly four years.

“We’ve really loved finding and offering brands and items you won’t see at the big department stores,” says Lainey. “Women of all ages have been giving us great feedback, and telling their friends about their great finds.”

Before women find the clothes that pleasantly surprise them, Lainey finds them by traveling to fashion events around the west coast and diligently researching her sources. Increasingly, Lolo continues to add more and more fair trade items -- many of which include community information and even the names of the women artisans who make them for a living wage. Two favorites in the store right now? Alpaca dolls made from real Alpaca fleece by women in Peru, and a full winter collection from Spokane-born Krochet Kids International.

“It’s been a joy to carry such fun, beautiful fair trade items,” adds Lainey. “We can’t keep these alpacas, people love them so much!”

On the Home & Gift side of the store, Denny continues to hone his craft at picking up interesting vintage items, and building versatile furniture pieces from lumber and metal pipe. From books to candles to tea towels, barware, and home decor, there’s all kinds of interesting stuff filling the shelves in the space they annexed from a winery that closed shortly after the LaRues bought Lolo.

“It’s been a really enjoyable second act, learning this business,” says Denny. His first career was uncommon as well, on the ice as an NHL referee.

Whether it’s friendly banter with Virg -- longtime Lolo employee and Lainey’s go-to partner in fashion sense -- or knowing their regulars by name, it’s clear that Lolo is thriving as a small local business because of relationships. From the ups and downs and stresses and joys of life and business, Lainey and Denny seem slightly tired at the outset of this holiday shopping season, but are thankful for these relationships they’ve built over the past four years.

Lainey shares an example. “There’s this kind local doctor who comes in every year and buys his adult daughters’ Christmas presents,” she says. “We love helping him with advice on the fashions his girls might like to find in their stocking each year.”

The LaRues live downtown where they work, and through relationships and intentionality, they are investing in a store that is making their neighborhood (and the world) a better place. As you begin your holiday shopping, remember to support people like the LaRues as you shop small, at Lolo or someplace like it in your Northwest locale.

-Ross Carper