Fripperies owner Deborah Jaccarino can't resist a challenge. Eighteen years ago, Jaccarino was a registered nurse who had left the field to become a full-time mother. A talented sewer, she made most of her daughter's clothes and consigned some pieces to the Blue Horse Children's Shop in downtown Mystic.
When the lingerie shop next door went up for sale, her husband, Fred, encouraged her to take her life in a new direction.
"I had no business experience," she says. "There were a lot of sleepless nights the first five years."
As she immersed herself in learning every aspect of running the shop, she had some help from manager Barbara Ibrahim, who ensured a smooth transition.
"I learned so much. But without her, we would not be successful," Jaccarino says. Ibrahim's experience and support also meant that Jaccarino could continue to play the role she wanted in her children's lives.
Knowing the shop was in good hands, "I was able attend all their activities," she says, adding that Ibrahim is so skilled at sales, "she could sell ice to an eskimo."
Fripperies stays vibrant by carrying distinctive products and designers, from lovely to functional to just plain fun. "You don't see what you see at deparment stores," Jaccarino says. "And department stores are fine, but we wanted to be more unique."
The shop also stands out by sponsoring special events, like a recent book signing by Cheryl Harrison (see related story), author of the spicy romance novel, "The Cougar Club Hotel."
"I thought it was a great love story," Jaccarino says. "And it was fun along the way. I thought a lot of people could see themselves in it."
Donna Hogan of Start from Scratch (a small marketing business based in North Stonington), said in difficult economic times it makes sense for local businesses and entrepreneurs to partner in fun and creative ways. Hogan is handling promotions for Harrison's book.
"I like to offer my clients unique marketing ideas," she says. "Having a book signing in a book store is typical. Having a book signing in a lingerie shop or eclectic boutique is unique."
Jaccarino agrees, adding that even successful businesses are "faced with challenges," in attracting and retaining customers. To reach new clients and help them feel at home, Fripperies also hosts a Men's Night, where men can comfortably shop, and enjoy refreshments, special discounts and free gift-wrapping while models showcase the latest in lingerie fashion.
Still, Jaccarino emphasizes, the challenges are "what makes business fun."
Which would seem to be the reason that at 50, she is vamping up her game instead of winding down toward retirement.
Jaccarino's children are grown now and establishing their own lives. She and Fred sold their family home and downsized to a condo in New London, which they love.
"Life had changed," she says, and she found herself ready for a new challenge — two new shops, The Tennis Toggery at Mystic Indoor Tennis, 90 Welles Road in Mystic, which opened in October and at Sport & Wellness, 17 Starr Road in Danbury, which opened in December.
Jaccarino, a club member, has a long-standing love for the sport. But —
"I could not find tennis clothes," she said. "I saw the need for a selection. With athletic bras — for example. For years I'd see my fellow players and I'd think, "let me help you."
The Tennis Toggery carries Fila, K-Swiss, Prince among other lines; and racquets by Prince and Babolat and accessories. The shop also offers racquet stringing and special demonstration days where players can test equipment.
There is no reason, Jaccarino said, not to play in clothes you love to wear.
"Everyone has different issues — with a shoe for example. But that's where special ordering comes in. If I don't have it, I'll find it for you."
The downside? It cuts into her playing time.
But not much.