CLINTON – Kara Ingalls is not only building her store and her Eleven 28 Boutique brand, she’s building community.
After her recent move from a small space in the Par Breakers building to the former Enterprise car rental storefront at 1044 Main St., Ingalls is looking towards the future while honoring the past.
She has both a successful brick-and-mortar store and sells online as well, with unique weekly live sales, providing camaraderie and humor along with women’s and occasionally girls’ fashion.
Considering herself a “wife and mother” first and foremost – Ingalls’s store is almost never open on Saturdays because she considers that a family day – her relatives are the most important part of her small business.
Her mother, Jen Kovac, works there regularly during hours Ingalls cannot. Her children, Bentley, 9, and Brielle, 6, join live sales and show items as well as ring up customers in-person. Her husband, Vinnie, secured the new location, is the handyman and handles the IT.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and the store is named after Parker, Ingalls’ first-born son, who was stillborn on Nov. 28, 2010. He was a healthy and normal pregnancy, but after she went into full-term labor, they found the baby had no heartbeat. Post-delivery, they discovered his umbilical cord was in a knot and when he dropped the cord tightened, which caused him to pass away.
“It was devastating and traumatic,” she said, and a “fluke.”
Ingalls feels that naming her store the Eleven 28 Boutique is a “great way to honor my angel baby so that he can always be included in my little business just like the rest of my family.”
Ingalls grew up in Worcester and has lived in Clinton since she was 17, when her parents moved into her grandparents’ house after they died.
“I have grown to love this community, especially after having kids. I love the schools and there are so many different community and family events that we love to attend such as movies in the park and block dances. Most people in this town have been super friendly and supportive and I couldn’t ask for a better location for my business,” she said.
Ingalls has a lot of regular customers, who she says “have become like another family” to her.
“Our regular customers have been so good to me,” she said.
She started in retail by selling LuLaRoe locally and online, but quickly realized it was not for her. She wanted to sell multiple brands and have more control over her own small business.
“I love retail because I love the customer service aspect. I love making people happy,” Ingalls said.
Her first brick-and-mortar location was in the Par Breakers building near downtown Clinton, which she found because Brielle attends dance in the same building. It served as a “great first space.”
Ingalls had wanted to wait to open a new storefront until she could go full time, but with new owners of the Par Breakers building and her lease up in the air, plus the former Enterprise location available, the time was right to move.
“This was an opportunity we could not pass up,” she said. “The location was exactly what I was hoping for.”
She always assumed that she “would need a small business loan to completely renovate” when she got a storefront, but the building “didn’t need much more than a good cleaning” and some cosmetic changes like a paint job, carpet, new furniture and racks.
It came with better parking, much more store space and lots of windows.
The only thing left to do at the new Eleven 28 Boutique is to get a better sign – there is currently just a banner on the outside from the old location.
Ingalls said she loves the ability to meet new people that owning a store gives her, but it can be challenging with social anxiety.
“I love being social but, when I first meet people, I have a hard time knowing how to initiate conversation or become social with them. I just have this constant fear of not being liked … that stems from a lack of confidence growing up. However, when I become comfortable with people I have a hard time shutting up and am very social,” like connecting with repeat customers.
As a result, she dislikes figuring out how to get her name out there, especially since she is “not comfortable with up-selling and pushing a product on someone.” She has relied heavily on word of mouth from her customer base, which has worked out well for her.
The live sales help with this. Often joined by her childhood friends Stacy Gutkey and Jamie Cutroni-Morris, they’ve been really helpful in building the Eleven 28 Boutique community, and to provide a sneak peak of new items or get steep discounts on sale items.
“We tell personal stories and connect with them about shared interests and it just makes everything feel so much more personal, which I love and the customers seem to love as well,” she said. “It’s a great way to socialize, especially with all the social distancing and uncertainty of the past two years.”
Giving back to the community is also very important to Ingalls, whether to a nonprofit organization or a local family dealing with disaster. She has a fundraiser giving a portion of her profits going almost all of the time and donates to charity.
“There are so many important causes out there and I love raising awareness not only for others, but for myself, too, by supporting friends and customers when I can,” she said.
Currently, Ingalls works with special needs children in a local school district, but she would love for her small business to become her career.
“The ultimate goal is to be able to go full time at the boutique, which I hope to do by spring/summer 2022,” she said.
In the meantime, Ingalls “keeps up with the trends,” often asks her customers what they want to see and chooses comfortable items that “are flattering to any body type,” which she can offer at a reasonable price.
Because of her limited hours, which are posted weekly on her website at eleven28boutique.com, Ingalls offers a variety of ways to shop. Anyone can make a private shopping appointment (“some people do this just to have the boutique empty due to comfort” with COVID, she said) via email, Facebook messenger, or calling or texting the boutique at (978) 612-6530. And she offers “private group shopping experiences” to larger parties and virtual shopping with video calls to national customers.
There is also a Facebook group and Facebook page to find out about hours, sales and deals. Online orders can be shipped or picked up.
New customers online or in-person can save 25% off their first purchase with code NEW25. Local customers always save 15% in-store or online for pickup with LOCAL15.