Carole Ginsburg, 62, has figured out the good life.
Early this year, she closed That Special Look, a women’s boutique on Montgomery Avenue in Bala Cynwyd that she ran for 36 years. Online competition had grown fierce, and she decided to close the shop.
Some might have seen closing the store they had run for decades as a loss, but Ginsburg saw opportunity.
“The biggest difference is that I have a life now,” Ginsburg said. “I was stuck before. I would get up, I didn’t have time to go to the gym. It was all about getting to the store at 9 and leaving at 7, and I didn’t have a life. My big thing is I needed to get unstuck. … I can breathe again. I’m out, I’m in the car. I’m not waiting at my store. I’m the proactive one.”
She decided to find a better work-life balance and use her free time to travel and volunteer. But she didn’t leave the world of retail completely.
Ginsburg works as a personal shopper. She has about 30 clients, all former customers of her store. She heads to local boutiques, picks out clothing for them and figures out different outfits. It comes at no cost to the clients; the boutiques pay her commission.
She has kept the name of her store, That Special Look, as the name of her service.
“It’s a win-win situation,” Ginsburg said. “The store makes out, I make out and the customer is extremely happy.”
Ginsburg grew up in Cheltenham and went to work as a buyer for Lord & Taylor right after college. After eight years in New York, she decided she wanted to return to the Philadelphia area.
Around that same time, she got married and had three sons.
In 1983, Ginsburg and her mother Arlene Ginsburg opened That Special Look. Arlene Ginsburg had owned a clothing store with a few other women in Elkins Park, and between the two of them, they were able to attract a wide group of customers.
One of those customers was Mona Zeehandelaar, who worked in investor relations and said she frequented That Special Look for about 20 years.
“I hate shopping,” Zeehandelaar said. “Even if I had had more time, I would have hated shopping, but I was a very busy working mother. Carole would dress me. It was as simple as that. I never had to worry about my wardrobe for work or plays or Saturday nights.”
The years passed. Ginsburg’s mother eventually retired. Online competition made business tough.
Ginsburg used to, for example, travel all over the world to find unique pieces to bring back to her customers. She continued to do that, but the internet meant those suppliers could sell directly to consumers, and Ginsburg was competing against them.
“These mom-and-pop stores now, they’re finding it so difficult to be in this industry because everybody can go online to buy everything,” Ginsburg said. “You don’t get that one-on-one person who’s going to help you and know what you bought last year in order to say, ‘OK, you know that blazer you bought? Why don’t you take that blazer and put it with these pants?’”
When she told her clientele she was thinking of closing the store, many of them were devastated, Ginsburg said. Some of them only shopped at That Special Look and relied on Ginsburg to dress them.
“So I decided, ‘What am I going to do for them next?’” Ginsburg said. The answer: “I could go to all my competitors and see what great clothes they have and make it happen for them.”
Now retired, Zeehandelaar said she does not need Ginsburg’s service as much as when she was working. The two of them, she said, are now friends and enjoy their less frantic lives. Still, she values Ginsburg’s insight into her wardrobe.
She recalled how recently, before an event, she sent some pictures of her clothes to Ginsburg to get her input on what she should wear.
What stands out to Zeehandelaar, though, is Ginsburg’s generosity.
At the end of each season, Ginsburg always gave clothes away to people in need, Zeehandelaar said. She is also generous with her time and helps the community.
That she is able to spend more time volunteering is one of Ginsburg’s favorite parts of retirement. She substitutes as a nursery school teacher at her synagogue, Main Line Reform Temple, and has committed to becoming a camp counselor. She volunteers for JEVS Human Services and Golden Slipper Gems and more.
She has also found time to travel. Soon after closing her store, she went to the Galápagos Islands, somewhere she had always wanted to go. She’s planning another trip to Croatia. She’s also been taking classes.
The good life, Ginsburg said, is all about making the effort. It’s not about life ending. With her children all grown up and her store closed, she sees this new chapter of her life as just the beginning.
“I’m having my personality again, which is why it’s such a great way to live,” Ginsburg said. “I could never not work. That’s who I am. So I identify with what I want in life, and I got it.”