At a time when national chains dominate the retail landscape, the Bethesda area is still home to count less locally owned stores. Here are our 50 favorites, all of which have unique personalities and charms and together sell everything you could want and need (including the kitchen sink).
Betty Barati and her daughters, Shiva Zargham and Sherri Hatam, opened Bethesda’s Belina five years ago and have filled the shop with elegant classics to suit all ages: clothing by Jenne Maac, Graham and Spencer, Robert Rodriguez and Velvet, and cutting-edge bags, belts and shoes by Calleen Cordero. Both Hatam and Barati recall that on their first New York buying trip, they were told that the other mother/daughter teams at the shows always ended up fighting. Not them. “We really have fun together,” says Betty. Even after working together all day, the women, all Bethesda residents, talk on the phone two to three times after going home. “It took my husband a little getting used to,” Hatam says.
Wildwood Shopping Center, 10215 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda, 301-897-2929
What we love: Besides the elegant clothes, we love their honesty—“We would never let someone walk out with something that looks terrible on them,” Hatam says.
Bella Vestiti is the go-to place for women golfers and tennis players who are looking for chic, pretty clothes to wear on the court or course, and beyond. “We really want you to be able to find things that not everyone else on the court or course is wearing,” says owner Kiersten Butterfield, who bought the store from founder Kim Anselmo in September. You’ll find clothes and accessories by Nike, Jamie Sadock and Birdie that are pretty enough to take you from the course to lunch, to a meeting and/or the grocery store. Butterfield, a Bethesda resident, has no plans to change the store or staff, but the tennis buff is looking forward to expanding the line of tennis clothes and warm-ups with boutique brands like Lejay and Peachy Tan.
Wildwood Shopping Center, 10259 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda, 301-897-2777, www.bellavestiti.com
What we love: Golf and tennis nuts don’t have to wear pleated skirts and frumpy shorts or sort through racks of miscellaneous clothes at a large chain store.
Need to ease the pain of shopping for a perfect pair of jeans? Don’t fret: The team at Bethesda’s Denim Bar can help—and offer your significant other a drink and TV while he/she waits. Mary Alexandre and Mauro Farinelli opened a Bethesda location in 2006 (there is also a store in Arlington). The staff insists they won’t let you leave in jeans that don’t look right, and the store has a tailor on call for alterations. Inside the dark-wood interior are shelves stacked to the ceiling with more than 40 brands of jeans for men and women, including Nudies that cost up to $750 a pair. They also carry tops and tees for women and are expanding their men’s offerings to include names like Shades of Greige and Bread Denim, says Alexandre.
4939 Cordell Ave., Bethesda, 301-986-5260, www.denimbaronline.com
What we love: Shopping at your own private Denim Bar party, complete with catered snacks and wine.
Ginger, new to Bethesda Row this spring, does “green” with style, from the artsy concrete-and-recycled-glass counter to the bamboo hangers to hip “eco” clothing made from organics by Linda Loudermilk, Loomstate and Cooper by Trelise Cooper. Also find elegant dresses and separates by Saja, Tevrow + Chase and Min Young Lee. Owner Gretchen Hitchner, a former co-owner of Periwinkle in Alexandria, says she prefers easy one-stop shopping to wandering through a mall, and carries shoes, belts and bags to complete your outfit. A Bethesda resident, Hitchner greets customers by their first names and her store is kid-friendly, too.
7114 Bethesda Lane, Bethesda, 301-664- 9242, www.gingerstyle.com
What we love: Hitchner’s merchandise blends fun and elegance. Handbags and wallets by Espe in bright colors and bold, cheerful graphics are vegan friendly and cruelty free.
Owner Susan Rosen opened her Wildwood Shopping Center boutique in 1990 and named it after her daughter, Madeline, who is now 27. Best known for its hand-knit, one-of-a-kind Elaris sweaters (“We just sold two today [a hot day in July] for $400” each, Rosen says), Madeline targets women ages 35 and up with contemporary, sophisticated fashions by Kay Unger, Nanette Lepore and sportswear by Gerard Darel. You’ll also find great buys because Rosen will “keep marking it down till it’s gone,” even if that means selling a $395 dress for $59.
Wildwood Shopping Center, 10303 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda, 301-564-9087
What we love: Rosen, who got her start in the junior department at Hecht’s, stocks up on lots of fun, feminine dresses with “a younger attitude” for the 35-plus crowd.
Lindsay Buscher’s keen eye for style drew her away from a graduate studies program at American University to open her first Urban Chic boutique in Georgetown in 2004. Last spring, she and husband Chris Buscher opened a Bethesda location with warm hardwood floors, pretty display furniture and luxe dressing rooms. In addition to tiny Juicy Couture and True Religion for kids, shoppers will find high-end fashion-forward names like Shoshanna, Anlo, Paige Premium Denim and Catherine Malandrino for high school girls and their moms. “Our collections are different in every store,” says Lindsay, who also likes to feature up-and-coming designers. Bethesda manager Catherine Koch will launch her jewelry line, Kiki Beach, at Urban Chic in November. The Buschers will open their fifth location in Annapolis in February.
7126 Bethesda Lane, Bethesda, 301-657- 0290, www.urbanchiconline.com
What we love: The handbags here are as cutting edge as the clothes. Look up high to spot great styles by J.J. Winters, Rebecca Minkoff and Treesje.
The Little Shoebox
Emilie Blaze and Janie Griffin of The Little Shoebox on Bethesda Lane say they don’t own just a shoe store, but “an art gallery of shoes.” It’s easy to see why. Inside you’ll find unique shoes, sandals, slides and flats in a rich array of satins, leathers and embellishments. Choose from designers like Brooklyn’s Olivia Rose Tal, Lario, Costablanca and Giuseppe Zanotti, whose black satin sandal embellished with a rhinestone fish scale was featured in last summer’s film Sex and the City—and can be purchased at The Little Shoebox. “We were the only ones [in the area] who chose that shoe,” Griffin says. “We just seem to have a knack for choosing the more fashion-forward shoe, [the] more creative look.” The space is fun and bright, too; Chevy Chase resident Betsy Young created the whimsical paintings of shoes adorning the walls.
7134 Bethesda Lane, Bethesda, 301-654-7463, www.thelittleshoeboxonline.com
What we love: The dozens of pairs of unique, designer shoes.
Daisy Too/Zelaya/Daisy Baby & Mommies Too
What happens when two girlfriends open a boutique (Daisy) in Adams Morgan for “single girls on a budget”? Eventually they each marry, have babies and end up co-owning a string of boutiques in Bethesda. At least, that’s the way it went for native Bethesdans Fabiana Zelaya and Andrea Paro Sandler, who, with Tony Zelaya, now own Daisy Too, Zelaya (in the rear of Daisy Too) and Daisy Baby & Mommies Too. “We are really the best of friends,” Fabiana says of Sandler. “We’re both from the area.” Sandler went to Walter Johnson High School, Fabiana attended Magruder High School, and her husband, Tony Zelaya, grew up in Windermere, attending the old Woodward High School and Bullis School. They all now live in King Farm in Rockville.
Daisy Too was one of the first contemporary boutiques in the area when it opened six years ago. Fabiana notes that many people assume a boutique is for young people, but her store is “not what people think. I get a lot of moms” and many mothers and daughters who shop together. Customers will find a range of dresses, separates and sweaters from the classic Billy Blues and Diane von Furstenberg to Ella Moss and Splendid. Daisy also carries handbags and always has a “$40 basket” filled with sale clothing and accessories.
4940 St. Elmo Ave., Bethesda, 301-656-2280