A Hand-Me-Down With Style

Lou Nell’s Fashions keeps up with the latest trends while keeping it in the family

By PATTI SELLS | News-Telegram Feature Writer

June 14, 2007 - Talk about hand-me-downs.

Staff Photo by Angela Pitts

"Lou Nell's has a lot of meaning in our family," said Carrie Crowson (back, second from the left). Also pictured are Kade Crowson, left of Carrie; her husband, Larry, and daughter Kaci Crowson, and (front, left to right) Suzie Jones, store manager, Clara Smith, Eva Phillips and Bonnie Gilmer, all long-time employees.

Carrie Crowson was passed along a whole clothing store from mother-in-law, Nell Crowson, owner of  Lou Nell's Fashions, located at 122 Lee St. 

"She was ready to retire and it was time for a change in the store," said Carrie, who in August of 2003, with her husband, Larry, took over the family business, established in 1973. "She knew it needed a change and didn't really have the energy to go forward and make the changes it needed."

Carrie, a kindergarten teacher at the time with a young son and daughter, had majored in fashion merchandising at Tyler Junior College but was still a little hesitant of the new business venture.

"I knew I had big shoes to fill," said Carrie. "This was her baby. I knew what a success she had made of it and I had a real fear of letting her down."

However, with a lot of prayer, her husband's support, wonderful employees and faithful customers, the transition went smoothly, according to Carrie, who said the business has done well the past four years.

"Now my hobby is my business. I've always loved fashion," she said. "I love clothes just as much as anyone, and when I bring new stuff home home for me, I just tell my husband it's advertising. 

"I'm about to wear that one out," she said, laughing as she pointed out an outfit. 

It was very important to her mother-in-law that Carrie make the business her own. She did that by bringing in clothing lines geared toward the younger generation.

"Before I took over, Lou Nell's was mainly more of a mature women's store," explained Carrie. "I've kept that, but I've brought in a younger style — trendy items, inexpensive shoes and accessories like belts, purses and jewelry. 

"We have a really great selection of jewelry at wonderful prices — everything from novelty fashion jewelry to sterling silver," she added.

Blue jeans are currently the hot item.

"We have a jean for just about everyone," said Carrie, who plugged favorites such as Miss Me and Not Your Daughter's Jeans, which have a hidden tummy tuck panel. "And we carry prices that everyone can afford."

The "sale wall" is a customer favorite. 

"Our regular customers go straight to that wall," Carrie said. "They know there is going to be something new on it every week."

Carrie said that although the store now caters to girls and women from age 15 to 90-plus, 60 percent of the store remains geared to the mature women.

"Buying for my age group is easy, but buying for the older, mature customers is a little tricky," she said. "Luckily, I have a lot of older people in my life that I'm very close to. I try to think of what they would like and what their needs are."

Keeping on top of the latest fashions is very challenging, according to Carrie, but also very enjoyable.

"I read lots of fashion magazines and attend lots of markets to see what's new each season," she explained. "A lot of what I see is not necessarily for Sulphur Springs. I just go with my gut feeling." 

Carrie said keeping her customers in mind helps her make various seasonal selections.

"I always buy an outfit with a certain customer in mind. Thinking of them helps me out a lot," she said. 

Several long-term employees have proved beneficial, as well.

"Lou Nell's wonderful staff was here long before me, and it's obvious they love what they do," said Carrie of Eva Phillips, a 28-year employee, Clara Smith, 22 years, Bonnie Gilmer, 15, and Betty Goodman, who has done the store's alterations for at least 30 years.

�"They have a lot of experience and have taught me so much," said a grateful Carrie. "They each have my best interest at heart and are always looking out for me."

In spite of the new changes, the staff holds fast to old-fashioned one-on-one customer service with a smile.

"Many of our [elderly] customers are like family to us," explained Carrie. " We sit them down and bring clothes out to show them. We get in the dressing room with them and help them change and help them with buttons. We even deliver to some of the nursing homes. They really get that one-on-one, old-fashioned service with us."

According to Carrie, the store's old-fashioned service doesn't stop there. 

"We are not computer savvy at all," she said with a laugh. " We still hand-write tickets and tag everything by hand." 

Lou Nell's Fashions has been in the family and served the community for more than 30 years, and Carrie said she hopes to continue in the family tradition of things.

"Our daughter has always been a tomboy but is starting to show an interest in the store," she said of Kaci, a freshman at Sulphur Springs High School. "Lou Nell's has a lot of meaning in our family. I think it would be great if it would stay around long enough to pass along to the next generation."

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