Words by Sheri Baer
As the door to Alys Grace opens, Tiger Bachler looks up and calls out a greeting: “Rosemary, how are you?” Noting another customer eyeing a floral top, she offers, “Molly, did you see that we got the new Nili Lotan in?” The response is a happy nod.
At boutiques dotted up and down the Peninsula, little interactions like these, once taken for granted, are blissfully happening again. Emerging from an unfathomable year, store owners, intent on recovery, find inspiration in the familiar faces of returning clientele.
In the case of Alys Grace, Tiger and Phil Bachler are the married duo behind the storefront. After opening their first Menlo Park boutique in 2008, the couple expanded to stores in Los Altos, San Francisco and San Ramon. “Now that we’re seeing some light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not a train,” Phil wryly observes, “it’s like, okay, we’re going to make our way out of this—and it’ll be very satisfying when that does happen.”
A few doors down on Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park, Malika Parker worked in fashion for decades before chasing her dream of running her own boutique. The single mom credits her store Gitane and loyal customers with making the difference. “Being able to raise my daughter here, being able to put her through college—I don’t think I would have been able to do this in my own country, in France,” she says. “I had so much support when I started and it never stops.”
At JoeyRae in San Carlos, it’s “three sisters and their mama” behind the family-run boutique. And mom Lynne Board is the first to point out that it’s not what you think. “The concept didn’t come from me,” she shares. Back in 2013, it was then 21-year-old daughter Allie who partnered up with her 23-year-old sister Camille to launch the store. “I made them promise that this was their baby,” recalls Lynne, who eventually joined the JoeyRae team, along with youngest daughter Tessa.
For the latest scoop on local fashion and style, PUNCH gets the skinny (which isn’t skinny jeans!) from three on-trend Peninsula stores.
Tiger and Phil Bachler
It looks like you started out with very different backgrounds. What led to your partnership and the opening of Alys Grace?
Tiger: I grew up in Hawaii on Kauai and then went to college on the East Coast. I’ve always worked in fashion/retail—Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue in New York and Gap in San Francisco. And then I was a stay-at-home mom for a while.
Phil: I grew up in Atherton and Portola Valley and got into the financial printing business and then insurance for a little bit. I basically kind of retired and we wanted to find a business to operate and make successful… and instead, we got into retail.
Tiger (laughing): He was looking at this highway striping company, and I said there’s no way I’m doing that. If I’m going to go back into business, it’s going to be something fun and exciting.
What’s the draw of a neighborhood boutique?
Tiger: We do a really great job of curating the best lines and narrowing it down. I think customers come to us because they want us to know who they are. They want us to call them when we have things that they might like.
Phil: We always go the extra mile for them. It’s much more personalized service.
How do you see fashion evolving out of the last year?
Tiger: The brands that we carry are all getting very Zoom-friendly, very casual, as a result of the pandemic. It’s not just changing the way most of us boutique owners buy—it’s changing the way the brands are presenting themselves. We probably will get back to doing some dressier things but the categories that are doing best are denim, sweaters and tops.
What are some of the trends that you’re seeing?
Tiger: All of our great brands have prints in them and T-shirts have some interesting detail, whether it’s a puff sleeve or a little ruffle on the neck. With pants, I don’t think skinnies will ever go out of style, but they’re just not the thing. Now it’s more straight or a little flair, a little kick to it.
How did you get your start in fashion?
My mom is French and my father is from North Africa, and I grew up in the suburbs of Paris. I started working in the fashion district when I was 17 years old. I swept and brought coffee to everyone, and little by little, I was given more responsibilities. I worked in retail for boutiques and then I moved to Nice in the South of France. I became a manager for a store there for about six years and then I moved to the Bay Area, where I worked for more boutiques like Cielo and Leaf & Petal.
What led you to opening
Gitane in Menlo Park?
I was looking for a space, and I fell in love with the location. I wanted a store that was welcoming. It’s really an extension of my house. My daughter and I love shopping, and I dreamed of a place where mom and daughter really could shop together, where I could have multiple price points—things that are for mom and other things that are for daughters.
How do you decide what to carry in your store?
Over the years, I’ve come to know quite a bit about my customers. When I go to markets, I usually have names in my head. I think about who would wear this and who would wear that. I keep in mind what people like and my part is to push them a little bit. When there is something that has them asking, ‘Is this too trendy?’ or ‘Am I too old to wear this?’ I’m there to say, ‘This is fashion. It should be fun.’
What items do you see being most popular right now?
It’s hard to get away from the cozy part. People want to keep that. The heels are kind of gone for a while. They want some kind of uplift through clothing—something whimsical, something colorful. Things that are easy to wear and cute like a pull-on skirt with a white T-shirt and sneakers. Sneakers. Sneakers. Sneakers. I love that trend so much!
Lynne, Camille, Allie & Tessa Board
The first obvious question—what’s the story behind the name JoeyRae?
Allie: We had gone back and forth on names for probably a month.
Lynne: I told them you need a compound word that doesn’t already exist so you can buy the domain.
Allie: Tessa’s best friend forever and ever is named Joey. And my middle name is Rae. So we’re all sitting around, and Joey says, ‘What about JoeyRae?’ We thought, ‘It’s catchy. It’s perfect.’
Lynne: Of course, we have so many people calling asking, ‘Is Joey there?’
With four of you, how do the roles get divided? Who wears which hat?
Lynne: I’m aesthetics, what things look like—and customers. Camille is customer relations. Allie is logistics, vendor relations, all the business. And Tessa is the computer. She’s our IT. As far as buying, it’s all four of us.
How do you decide what JoeyRae should carry?
Lynne: We have different styles, different bodies and a different financial willingness to spend.
Allie: We’re all at different life stages, so it melds really well together. We have things for younger people who are just working their first or second job and want to buy something nice but don’t want to break the bank. But then we also have pieces for people who do want to spend a little bit more, who do want that high-quality silk or to throw on a cashmere sweater.
What’s your take on style trends going forward?
Lynne: What I see is that people want to get dressed now but they still want to be comfortable.
Allie: It’s more like the stylish side of a sweatshirt that you could easily pair with denim. And very flowy, midi-length casual dresses.
Lynne: Dresses are back!
Allie: But more like, ‘I’m going to throw this on with sneakers but also look cute and fashionable.’
How happy are your customers to be able to shop in person again?
Allie: There are so many people who come in and say, ‘Oh, it feels so good just to be in a store.’
Lynne: Tons of happiness.Everyone says it, every time they come in.