The Chama provides one-of-a-kind looks
If you want a luxe look that stands out from the crowd, but don’t want to brave the crowds, The Chama is the place for you.
Those who duck into this longstanding Claremont boutique find exclusive brands you may have heard of, like the Lady Primrose skincare line and Brighton accessories. The shop also carries things you won’t find anywhere else in these parts. Take, for instance, the Yoakam, Texas-based Double D Ranchwear, a line founded by a mother and her 3 daughters, which True West magazine recently described as “western boho with a gypsy soul.”
The store’s wares, which also include staples like denim, T-shirts and the iconic little black dress, are not its only draw. What keeps customers coming back is the way staff—including owner Becky Ayers and manager Illiana Barreras, Ms. Ayers’ daughter—take time to get to know their customers.
Sometimes, when the mother-daughter duo are at one of the apparel shows that take place each year in places like Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Mateo, they’ll see an item that perfectly matches the tastes of a regular customer.
“I’ll say, Oh my god, that looks like so-and-so!” Ms. Barreras said.
Occasionally, an item isn’t a good match for a customer. If someone comes out of the dressing room, asking for feedback, they can expect some honesty.
“We really care what our customers look like,” Ms. Ayers said. “We might say, ‘This isn’t the strongest choice for you. Let’s find something else.’ Because if they walk out of here not looking put-together, that’s not a good referral for us.”
Ms. Ayers and Ms. Barreras not only shop with customers in mind. They also gravitate towards items that catch their own fancy. The women estimate that 80 percent of what Ms. Barreras wears and 100 percent of Ms. Ayers’ wardrobe comes from their shop.
“It’s important that we wear what we sell, so women will get to see it on. A mannequin won’t do the things a women’s body will do,” Ms. Barreras said.
“Plus,” she added with a laugh, “it justifies my spending.”
A natural progression
Ms. Ayers, who has owned the local boutique since 1997, never expected to become a fashion maven. Many years ago, her sister worked at The Chama. Then, in 1985, when Ms. Barreras started kindergarten, she suggested Ms. Ayers take a job there, too. Within a couple of years, Ms. Ayers was promoted to manager.
The store’s original owner, Joanna Wood, a Scripps College alumna with a sophisticated sense of fashion, became a mentor.
“She taught me so much about image, about color and putting textures together,” Ms. Ayers said.
Ms. Barreras didn’t begin working with her mother until 1998 when she turned 18, but she practically grew up at the shop. She recalled those early days at The Chama, which Ms. Woods opened 32 years ago on Yale Avenue, in the spot now occupied by Xerxes. As a child, she was especially dazzled by the estate case, a display with heirloom jewelry acquired from estate sales that is still featured in The Chama today.
“It was kind of a second home,” Ms. Barreras shared. “During sales, my mom would bring me in to help and I’d be in the corner, sorting hangers.”
Ms. Woods eventually moved The Chama to its current location on Bonita Avenue, taking great care with its design. Touches of its former owner are everywhere in the shop, which features accents like Mexican tile floors and lighted stained glass detailing.
Then, in 1995, tragedy struck when Ms. Woods died suddenly at age 55. Her husband, who Ms. Ayers said was very gracious, kept the business running seamlessly for 2 years and gave Ms. Ayers the first shot at buying the shop.
“It didn’t take much thought,” she said. “I had been doing it so long, it was almost a natural progression.”
Ms. Ayers has never regretted her choice. She gets to work with her daughter, who has helped bring the store into the information age by updating the shop’s website and blog and making forays into social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. From time to time, they have an “off day,” but for the most part, working together has strengthened their relationship and improved the business.
“We have totally different buying styles,” Ms. Barreras said. “It’s yin and yang, working together.”
Ms. Ayers also enjoys the interaction with customers, some of whom stop in as often as twice a week, and others who pop in when they see something new and enticing in the window. One reason for the frequency is that the store’s stock changes often.
“Once an item is sold out, we’re moving onto something different,” Ms. Barreras said. “If you see that perfect jacket and you don’t pick it up this week, it’ll be gone. We never go back and order the same thing. We’re always moving forward.”
Sherry Kinison of Upland, who has shopped at The Chama for nearly 20 years, said she appreciates that the store has age-appropriate clothing for women who are no longer in their 20s.
“They always have unique things,” Ms. Kinison said. “I don’t want to see myself coming and going in the mall.”
Along with camaraderie, The Chama provides Ms. Ayers and Ms. Barreras with something they love: enough clothes, handbags, jewelry and shoes to warm the heart of any shopping addict. New pieces arrive every day in the hands of vendors or via mail.
“It’s a fascinating world,” Ms. Ayers said. “It’s like Christmas all the time. We’re always opening boxes.”
Life got a little more fascinating for the mother-daughter team recently when they were approached by the producers of the TLC reality show What Not to Wear. They ended up bringing a film crew to The Chama, where they filmed a post-makeover Tina Yothers—best known for her role as the youngest kid in Family Ties—shopping with newly-acquired style know-how. Ms. Ayers and Ms. Barreras are sorry to report that Stacy and Clinton weren’t on hand for the segment, but they’re delighted about their shop’s TV cameo.
The Chama is located at 323 W. Bonita Ave. in Claremont. For information, call 626-8982 or visit www.thechamaclaremont.com.