Business: Calla emerges from fire with new look | September 30, 2009 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - September 30, 2009

Business: Calla emerges from fire with new look

by Sean Howell

On March 17, Phil and Tiger Bachler were planning to start work on a small remodel at Calla, the women's clothing boutique on Santa Cruz Avenue they had taken over in the fall of 2008. A painter was scheduled to come by that day to do some work — to "put some lipstick on the pig," in Mr. Bachler's words.

But Mr. Bachler found himself rushing to the boutique early that morning for a different reason. A fire that had apparently started in a utility closet above the boutique and Peet's Coffee & Tea had damaged the building's structure, ruining much of Calla's inventory.

"We were going to have a small remodel on the day of the fire," Mr. Bachler said. "Now we have a big remodel."

The Bachlers, who live in Atherton, say they view the fire as an opportunity, rather than a setback. It has given them time to focus on molding the boutique to fit their vision, they say. (It also doesn't hurt that they had insurance.)

First up is a name and logo change: Calla is now Alys Grace, a hybrid of the name of Phil's mother, and the middle name of the couple's youngest daughter. The boutique is scheduled to open in a temporary location on Chestnut Street Thursday, Oct. 1, before eventually moving back to the Santa Cruz Avenue storefront.

The Bachlers also plan to open an online operation, at, that they hope to infuse with the same small-town charm of their "brick and mortar" store.

They won't speculate on when the old space might be ready for business. They started searching for a temporary location after one of the property owners mentioned to Phil on the day of the fire that it might be a year before their boutique could re-open.

New competition

Calla has gone largely unchallenged as the city's most popular women's clothing boutique, if 11 consecutive Almanac Readers' Choice awards are any indication.

But Menlo Park has been flooded with new women's clothing retailers in the months since the fire. Four new boutiques and one custom clothing designer have set up shop, one on the same block as Alys Grace's new location. No fewer than ten Menlo Park shops now sell women's clothing, according to Dave Johnson, the city's business development manager.

Are the Bachlers concerned about the competition?

"If Menlo Park could become a destination for shopping for women around the Peninsula, that would be great," Ms. Bachler said. "It makes my job a little more challenging because I have to be on my toes more, but it's good for the customer."

She says she's grateful for the traction Calla has in the community. Customers and vendors have remained loyal, despite the influx of new clothing stores.

"We miss having the store open," she said. "Phil and I have really enjoyed being a part of the community, and the fire has really been eye-opening to us. ... It's made us realize just how important that community is."


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