King’s boutique has survived downtown for nearly 30 years
(pictured above: Lydia Derr Mary King stands in her shop, Keona’s Boutique.)
She fills her 235 W. 5th St. shop with fancy hats, smart dresses and ensembles that she hand picks. She believes clothing should make women feel like queens.
“I want my customers to look right and be happy,” King said. “I want them to look good. They are representing me, and I want them to come back again.”
The boutique, named after King’s daughter Keon, caters to professional women who want to find that special outfit, whether it is for an important occasion or a church service. She has run the shop for 31 years. It has been at its current downtown location for 27 of those years.
Unlike many other black-owned businesses, Keona’s Boutique has survived downtown’s gentrification. In the late 1990s, King’s was one of several black-owned downtown retailers along Trade and Fifth streets. She is the only one still in business today.
She credits her success and longevity to loyal customers who spread the word about her business; family members who help out at the shop when needed; and a great landlord.
“My customers that I had 31 years ago are the same customers I have now,” King said. “A lot of my older customers have gotten sick or have died, but even in their death, (my clothes were used to bury) them. I have repeat customers. Everyone that has shopped from me keeps coming back.”
Retail is in King’s blood. When was 12, she started working for her father, J.C. Bess, at Harding’s Shine Parlor. Then, her brother, Melrose Hall, opened up a woman’s boutique, Di-Mels, right beside her father’s shop on Patterson Avenue.
When Melrose decided to stop selling clothes, King decided to take over the business.
“I got started watching him and watching my dad,” the 64-year-old said.
She searches sedulously for the items she carries. Her customers have come to expect one-of-a-kind, eye-turning outfits.
Twana Wellman-Roebuck, the executive director of the anti-poverty agency Experiment in Self-Reliance (ESR), has been a loyal customer since the 1980s.
“What keeps me coming back is the professionalism. (King) cares about me as a customer, and I like for my clothes to fit properly,” Wellman-Roebuck said. “She knows that I have a number of public events coming up, and I can call her in advance and she will dress me according to the audience.”
King plans to continue to make the women of Winston-Salem feel their best.
“I’m going to keep on doing what I’ve been doing, because if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it,” she said. “As long as I can get in here, get my stuff, go to the shows and take care of my customers, I will be fine.”