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New boutique on the block: Fargo's Leela & Lavender opens in Washington Square Mall

Owners Jill Shea, center, and Laura Polanski pose at their Detroit Lakes Leela & Lavender storefront with director Angie Sunde. Emily Driscoll / Tribune1 / 2
Leela & Lavender is celebrating their new Detroit Lakes location with an all-day-long grand opening at their store in the Washington Square Mall on Saturday, July 28. Emily Driscoll / Tribune2 / 2

Co-owners Jill Shea and Laura Polanski are hoping to resurrect the northwest corner of the Washington Square Mall with Leela & Lavender, a one-stop style shop. If sales match their dedication to the industry, then their aspirations should prove successful with this second installment.

Shea and Polanski opened the first Leela & Lavender in Fargo in late October 2017. Then, eight months later, they ambitiously unveiled their second location on June 1 of this year.

"After we opened Fargo we knew we wanted to expand, and we knew we wanted to stay close," said Polanski. "We also wanted to keep an eye on the store and be super involved."

She said they enjoy the smaller, tight knit community and that Shea has a lake place on Big Detroit, so naturally they landed in lakes country.

Leela director Angie Sunde has been by their side along the way, offering a buffet of skills like visual, planning and marketing techniques.

The three friends wanted to have a store where someone could walk in and find a head-to-toe outfit while feeling at home and fitting their budget, large or small (the lowest prices ranging roughly $80-$120 for a full outfit).

To create a homey effect, they have cleverly included an area in the corner with bar stool seating and a flat screen television in case shoppers bring their little couch potato along with them on a shopping spree. They also have a fireplace with another seating area, spacious dressing rooms, and a brightly lit shop.

"Laura and I were in the buying arena for Vanity," Shea said. "We worked in corporate for many years, and that's great and secure and stable, but you always have bigger dreams for if you had your own business and what that would look like."

They all built careers shopping for boutiques, and it wasn't always glamorous, but they got to dive deep into the fashion industries of Asia, Europe, L.A., Vegas and New York.

"We had a vision. We'd have conversations like if we had our own store, this is what we like about this store and this is what we don't like about this store," Shea said. "The biggest challenge is just that you do everything. We were experts in buying, and all of a sudden you have to do accounting and IT."

Although Shea said they struggled at first with some technical aspects behind the scenes, that isn't apparent when browsing the shelves of their well kept shop on Washington Avenue.

In the end, they say the challenges are worth it, especially for Polanski, who said that no one should pass up on a dream.

"Go after your passion, and if you do that then you'll be successful, knowing along the way that you may have difficulties, and it's not always the easiest path by any means," Polanski said.

"Just get ready to roll up your sleeves," Shea added.

With a strong opening during the busy season, they expect that winter may bring a decrease in sales, but they are prepared for that.

"We like that Detroit Mountain is kind of a destination spot in the winter," Shea said. She's not too worried about losing their customer base, especially because they offer sweaters and other winter attire during colder months. "We will work hard throughout the year to bring in traffic with events."

Shea also mentioned that they make a point to stock a variety of price points. Combing through a rack of blouses in their shop, don't stop at the $78 shirt, because there might be a $25 shirt sitting right next to it. And be careful when checking out those shades, because they might be the $80 ones.

A mission they say they stick to is to use style as a force for good. "In Fargo, we focused on the FM women's fund, just helping women live their best life and follow their passion," Shea said. "We want anyone of any age, style or budget to find anything for any facet of their life."

The store offers shoes, tops, sweaters, jeans, rompers, dresses, accessories, swimsuits, and lingerie.

According to their website, they offer free style consultation appointments to help navigate the store based on the customer's personalized style.

"Our mission with leela is style for good, as a team we want to give back," Shea said. "Business can be a force for good and we really want to push that."