Emma Lou’s boutique sells dresses from black to white
By JIM JONES, Associated Press A boutique in downtown Washington that sells black dresses and accessories to white customers has closed its doors for good, leaving one of the country’s oldest clothing companies and its longtime owner without a permanent home.
Emma Lou was founded in 1905 by famed fashion designer Alice Bailey and her husband, Robert, who had bought a factory in Boston.
The company was in business until 1961 and was eventually sold to an investor who also bought the business and renamed it the Bailey Brothers.
After that, it was a clothing retailer, which was in decline.
The Bailey brothers had an office in the Washington Monument but the store was a major draw for tourists.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, they were considered among the most iconic fashion designers of the 20th century, with their signature designs and bold prints.
They sold their brand to Gap Inc. in 1989, and were purchased by the Bailey family in 2003.
After they sold the business to a group of investors, the family bought the store, which had been located in an old warehouse in the District.
In 2007, the business became the Emma Lou Gallery, which has remained a prominent part of the city’s cultural fabric.
The business closed Wednesday.
The closure leaves about 10,000 customers without a place to shop, said Emma Lou associate editor Rebecca Joffe.
They have been asking the city to help them find an apartment, but no offers have come forward.
The store, located in the heart of Washington’s Old Town neighborhood, was one of two businesses that closed at the end of the day Wednesday, leaving an estimated 9,000 people without a way to shop.
It was the first closure of a major fashion store in Washington in about a decade, said the Associated Press, which also noted that the company has about a dozen other locations.
The other store, the Biltmore Art Gallery, is also still open.
The two shops were among the few remaining major stores that operated on the same streets in the Old Town district, said Sarah Loomis, who oversees preservation programs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Emma’s former owner, George Bailey, who also owned the Bilsons, had lived in the area and opened his own boutique there, said Loomish, whose sister, Ellen, runs the business.
“George loved Emma Lou and wanted it to continue to thrive,” she said.
“It was just the right time for Emma Lou to go out and have a renaissance.
The Bilsings sold their company to the family in the early 1990s, and Emma Lou started growing up as a fashion house.”
The Biltups had the building and lots for sale and the Bailey brothers bought it in the 1970s.
They later bought the building, which they also owned, but the business had fallen behind the Biltsons’ efforts to reopen as a museum and as a boutique, Loomic said.
The shop had a great staff, and it was well liked by the city and visitors, Lomis said.
But it became a cash cow for the owners and the Bilings and the business struggled.
By 2015, it had lost more than a third of its employees.
The businesses’ loss, along with the loss of an estimated $3.5 million in revenue, put a crimp in the company’s plan to reopen in 2019, Loms said.
They decided to sell the business in 2019 and focus on other ventures.
The last Biltup store closed in March 2018, and Loms had planned to reopen the museum and boutique in 2019.
Lomic said it was “a bit of a wake-up call” that Emma Lou closed in 2019 but was not shuttered, although a statement was not immediately available.
“The Biltings are in a very precarious position right now,” she told The Associated Press.
“We have a lot of work to do in the next couple of years, but we’re very excited to be able to continue the legacy.”
The Emma Lou store closed Wednesday and is no longer open for business.
A memorial will be held in September, according to the business’s Facebook page.
It is not clear when it will reopen.
The Associated Media was unable to reach the Bailey’s for comment.