NORTH LIBERTY– The aesthetic is as cute as its name.
Itsy Bitsy is North Liberty’s first children’s boutique, which opened at 201 Hwy. 965 in Liberty Plaza in March. To say the store sells new, handmade and consignment clothing and other products for children is true.
But it might be more accurate to say it’s a colorful combination of frills and lace, polka-dots and Tiger Hawks, comfy-cozies, booties, bonnets and blankies for everyone’s special sweet peas.
It’s intentionally adorable; owners Kelly and Nic Mercer are an effective team when it comes to combining creative genius with business acumen.
Kelly, a Decorah-area native, has a degree in studio art.
“A lot of artists are also entrepreneurs,” said Kelly. “If you want to work as an artist, you have to work for yourself. I’ve always had the bug to open a business, but didn’t really know what.”
The couple moved to North Liberty in 2007. Meanwhile, Kelly also earned a nursing degree and works full time as a registered nurse at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. When trying to decide whether to advance her nursing career or open a business, “I chose to open a business,” she said.
And Nic was on board. He has a background in pharmaceuticals, and left his 13-year position at the University of Iowa to manage the shop. Kelly took a fast-track class at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, a primer for entrepreneurs looking to start their own business.
“At first, I wanted to offer all handmade artwork and gifts,” said Kelly, but the choice to open a children’s consignment store in North Liberty came through a sign– quite literally. While in Iowa City, she saw a sign on a children’s consignment shop indicating it was accepting no more consignments. She researched the demographics of North Liberty, and learned it was blooming with young families.
“There are children everywhere,” said Nic. “It had a lot to do with all the kids running through our backyard.”
They happened to be other people’s children. In a stroke of cheerful coincidence, the Mercers also found out they were expecting a baby of their own; Kelly is due in October.
The Mercers’ new shop offers both new and gently used clothing, but it’s also part of something more.
“I have always loved boutique shopping,” said Kelly, “because of the whole experience. The sights and smells, the handmade and unique gifts are all part of it. And I thought, there are so many creative people out there who need an outlet for their work.”
The Mercers decided to include handmade goods by local and regional artisans and new, unique items from Iowa companies in their boutique.
“We focus on local and regional companies and artists, because I feel it’s the key to economic recovery and job growth. If people spent their money with locally-owned businesses, it will foster growth and help create jobs,” said Kelly.
“We have an emphasis on quality resale,” Nic added.
The consignment side of Itsy Bitsy feeds the couple’s environmental consciousness as well.
“It’s the whole renew, reuse, recycle and be green idea,” said Nic.
“We both believe in recycling,” Kelly said. “Why not give something a second life?”
In addition to clothing, the boutique features shower gifts, handmade cards, blankets, hair accessories, hats, doll clothes, sock monkeys and even a tutu or two. Eventually, the Mercers expect to have a special section just for moms, like bath soaps, candles and Kelly’s own handcrafted jewelry.
Itsy Bitsy is both well-appointed and well-situated in Liberty Plaza, with Nic helping with the build-out of the former Northside Fitness space and Kelly redesigning the space into vibrant colors and rich textures and lively patterns layered over shabby chic and antique furniture for instant boutique flair. It even smells lovely.
“One of the things I thought about is how Iowa City is an artsy, creative community, and I wanted to transplant some of that flavor and character to North Liberty,” said Kelly. “We are hoping it will help make North Liberty a destination location, and hope others are inspired to follow suit and open other cool businesses.”