PHOTOGRAPHY Cameron Flaisch

ANYBODY WHO HAS ever been in business knows that it takes a stunning amount of work and perseverance to keep a local business open. We’ve all seen many startups come and go, and long-standing institutions close their doors.

We have all also seen plenty of local businesses thrive and prosper despite changing economies and hard times mel&mimi’s, located at 203 East 8th Street., is a shining example of one of Rome’s own success stories. A small peach and teal Victorian tucked away in old East Rome plays home to the trendy and friendly business that folks across Northwest Georgia and beyond have come to know and love.

As summer swelters on towards fall weather and fashions, mel&mimi is preparing to celebrate two decades of history at the busy women’s fashion boutique. With the anniversary on August 20th, it’s come time to reflect on everything that makes mel&mimi’s the institution it is today.

Melanie Morris and Mimi Weed purchased the store, originally known as Ragtime Boutique, from Nancy Self. Weed accounts, “Nancy had purchased the store from my sister Tessa Wood, the personal history of the store having been around for almost 40 years is hard to believe.” Morris has a strong arts background and Weed adds, “Melanie has a knowledge and a passion that she was able to bring to the store to make it mel&mimi.”

Feeling that Ragtime was limiting itself with its own image, Morris and Weed decided to change the name to reflect the ever-evolving landscape of fashion.

Both ladies wanted to pay homage not only the change in name and direction, but also responding to a growing business they moved from their original 2nd Avenue location to their current home on East 8th Street. After a little fashion facelift, the mel and mimi’s we know today was born.

With the added space and newly created image, the industrious duo branched out adding a wide range of both designer and handcrafted women’s fashion accessories, jewelry and clothing. “When we purchased Ragtime in ’97 we wanted to expand and service more people,” says Weed.

The fashion industry is not an easy arena to contend in however, and the store has surely seen its ups and downs. “Any time you’re in business it’s a challenge, I think. There’s been times when we’ve had to buckle down more, tighten up more with our dollars,” says Weed. With rapidly changing trends and styles, it’s a constant challenge to keep up with what’s popular. They work tirelessly to make sure that they are bringing the latest styles to the women of Rome and Northwest Georgia, “You have to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s new when it comes to fashion,” adds Morris.

Literally going the distance for their customers is one reason that mel&mimi’s has managed to not only survive but thrive through the hard times. The pair of fashionistas not only sacrifice for the business but they dig deep and develop more than just business relationships with their customers. Morris and Weed hope to provide the kind of personal touch you would expect from a high-end designer, without the high-end price tag.

“The last few people who have been in today, we know something about them. You develop those relationships with people and that makes a difference,” Morris explains.” After 20 years, I think it’s our approach to service and the people we love that keep us in business.”

To Morris and Weed a customer represents so much more than a potential sale, they are a potential friend and customer for years to come, and they want folks to leave feeling good and looking better. “Just being here and being able to continue offering customer service and quality, as our customers have grown with us, helps us in keeping the momentum,” says Weed.

Word of mouth can be a powerful tool; mel&mimi have found that social media has been an asset in the internet age. New customers come in and leave happy, and that satisfied customer makes sure they post about it. “20 years ago, we didn’t have such an internet presence; I think that’s been something that has helped us along, too”, states Morris. “We’re always just trying to keep things exciting and keep things interesting.”

With such a presence in the local market and so many people behind them, this trendy pair of entrepreneurial women have come a long way from their humble beginnings in the retail world. 20 years in business is a fantastic accomplishment, and the ladies at mel&mimi couldn’t be happier with what they have achieved. When looking back on it all, it’s obvious that the pair have succeeded in the world of fashion despite the trials and tribulations, and have no plans of retiring any time soon. A little older and a little wiser, Morris reflects on the experience, “We don’t look the same as we did 20 years ago, but we are full of energy. It’s something to be proud of; to be in business and have a door open for 20 years, and to have so many who support us. It’s amazing.”

A special 20th year open house was commemorated to celebrate one of Rome’s most loved retail establishments.