Savannah Belle has been open since late winter, but the grand opening event was just last Saturday.
The newish boutique is located at 206 E. Bay St. on Factors Walk. Neighboring businesses include Factor's Cottage and Melonie's.
Savannah Belle - the third store owned and operated by Lisa and Curt Bolak - stocks a wide range of women's clothing and fashion accessories, in addition to original paintings, photographs and various gift items. It's a bright, cheerful spot with great views across the Savannah River.
The surprisingly large boutique used to be the gallery of local oil painter Michele Snell, who displays a considerable amount of work at Savannah Belle.
In fact, Snell still paints in the space and was working cheerily on the morning of Savannah Belle's bustling grand opening. She didn't seem bothered at all by the casual interruptions from visitors like me.
Lori Collins of Savannah Coffee Roasters was also on hand for the grand opening with free coffee and pastries. As has been detailed in previous articles in this newspaper, Collins is planning to open a retail store and cafÃ© in the coming months in the 200 block of West Liberty Street.
Grand opening day sales at Savannah Belle and its sister stores benefited the Humane Society for Greater Savannah.
Since the merchandise at Savannah Belle is of primary interest to women, the store has a "man cave" upstairs with comfortable couches, a television, a few items for sale and some reading material.
Lisa told me she's trying to "cater to the middle" of the market. She noted that Savannah has some fine and fairly expensive boutiques, as well as some much more inexpensive spots.
She's hoping the mix of stock and the accessible location will attract more local shoppers than Factors Walk businesses generally see.
And Savannah Belle is definitely getting some returning customers, even if they aren't all local.
"We do a lot of business with tourists who come back," Lisa noted.
That's a phenomenon I've written about before.
Savannah attracts many returning visitors. Some have family in the area, some travel the coast frequently, some come to town on business, some live in the region and see Savannah as the perfect getaway.
And when those regular visitors have good experiences at hotels, retail stores, restaurants and bars, they can truly become regulars.
Curt and Lisa Bolak, both of whom have backgrounds in media and marketing, got into the retail game about four years ago, when the economy was pretty much in the tank.
In 2009, they took over Savannah Rose at 126 E. Bay St. and then opened Matter of Factors at 120 E. Bay St.
Those two stores are on either side of the entrance to the River Street Inn.
The strong sales and limited space at the boutique Savannah Rose in part prompted Lisa and Curt to take the plunge with the larger Savannah Belle space.
Despite the aggressive expansion, Curt says today's economy is just "OK."
"I'm still waiting for the recovery to really kick in," Curt told me.
Matter of Factors also occupies a small space - and it's divided into two even smaller rooms.
The area near the entrance is primarily devoted to wine sales. At any given moment, the store has bottles from more than half a dozen Georgia wineries. There's peach wine, chocolate wine and even wine with vintage album covers.
The rest of Matter of Factors is devoted to unique merchandise with a "wow factor."
Curt and I spoke for quite a while about the unique business environment of Factors Walk. There's not as much foot traffic as down below on River Street, but the business comes overwhelmingly from tourists.
As suggested above, they're hoping to lure a few more locals with the concept at Savannah Belle.
Factors Walk is just a couple of blocks from Broughton Street, but many regular downtown shoppers don't even consider going that far north.
Curt noted some positive momentum not only in the economy, but also in the general business climate.
"The city and small businesses seem to be doing a better job of collaborating," he said, noting the efforts of the Downtown Business Association and Mayor Edna Jackson. We also talked about holiday shopping. Downtown isn't quite as dead during the holidays as it once was, but there's clearly room for growth.
"There are so many assets that could be developed for the holidays," Curt noted.
Like so many other entrepreneurs I've interviewed over the years, Lisa and Curt Bolak ended up in the Savannah area largely because of the lure of the coastal lifestyle.
And, like others with thriving downtown businesses, they've seized opportunities during tough economic times.
City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via email@example.com and http://www.billdawers.com. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, GA 31401.