Business & Real Estate

High-tech meets high fashion in a new Los Altos boutique

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Belle de Jour owner Tammy Tao, left, and her friend and store manager Sandra Campbell recently opened their newly renovated clothing boutique on Main Street in Los Altos. Tao told herself she would only open the shop if Campbell were willing to help, as Campbell is a fashionista who has greatly influenced Tao’s own style.

Belle de Jour, the boutique that replaced the designer shop Shunzi on Main Street in Los Altos, is open and ready for customers to browse, acquaint themselves with the space and offer feedback on what kind of pieces they would like to see.

Owner Tammy Tao, a friend of previous proprietor Shunzi Che, had recently retired from her job as a developer at San- Disk when she was approached by Che, whose chain boasts the motto “Unique fashion for unique women.” Che, the store manager and Tao had discussed how Tao wanted to own a boutique someday, so when Che decided to close her Los Altos location and move closer to her East Bay home, Tao came to mind as her successor.

“One day she called me and she said, ‘Can I have a talk with you?’” Tao said of her conversation with Che. “She showed me the revenue, and when I saw it, I was not interested. Compared with my (tech) income, and knowing she had experience … I believed if she made this much, I would make (less).”

Tao turned Che down that day. She went home, and following her Christian beliefs, sent a prayer up to God for direction. Tao gave God two conditions for cementing the deal: everything had to go smoothly, and Sandra Campbell had to run the boutique as her store manager.

Tao and Campbell met when Campbell was managing the Phyllis Boutique in Palo Alto. Tao made special visits to see Campbell even when she wasn’t planning on buying, just to chat with her friend.

“I was joking and I said, ‘Can we work together?’” Tao laughed. “I was thinking it was going to be fun because I really enjoyed talking to her – she really knows the clothes and design.”

Tao said she woke up the morning after she prayed with her perspective totally changed. She hadn’t been thinking of the potential business, but when she looked at herself in the mirror, she wondered what in the world she had contributed to society.

“Since I stepped into the United States, I don’t have any contributions,” Tao said. “The only contribution I could think of was raising up two nice kids. … The only thing I had was to benefit myself. I made good money before and enjoyed my life. I thought, ‘If I could support someone or a couple of people to have a good life, that would be my contribution.’”

Tao called Campbell to the empty storefront to take a look.

“I thought to myself, ‘Well, I’m here,’” Campbell said. “She hired me, and the rest is history.”

A warm space for hot trends

The space at 334 Main St., which underwent minor remodeling after Shunzi cleared out – including moving the sales register to the back of the store to open up the sales floor; adding new paint, mirrors and spot lighting; and redesigning the dressing rooms – reopened in August.

“We wanted a warm space for our clients, like stepping into their own living room,” Campbell said.

Tao expects that the fresher, cutting-edge look may meet with mixed reactions: On one hand, it may be inviting to women who regularly shop at designer boutiques, but on the other, it may scare off customers who assume that the bright, silver-mannequined shop windows mean sky-high prices.

That isn’t the case: Belle de Jour purposefully carries low-, medium- and high-priced fashions to reach all lifestyles in and around Los Altos, a strategy that also helps fend off competition from online boutiques. Going forward, once Belle de Jour is firmly established, they may sell their European and domestic designer clothing online, Campbell said.

For now, Tao and Campbell are focusing on store growth by reaching out to customers to learn what they want through methods like email blasts to former Shunzi shoppers.

Belle de Jour plans to host events for potential customers, beginning with a “Sip and See” champagne tasting party during the holidays (date to be determined). Tao considered holding events twice a month, but after being in retail for a few months, she knows that isn’t realistic.

“We will have some events, but it’s all a learning experience,” Campbell said. “We are in a new town, a town that I find is extremely close and likes to put their taxpayer dollars back into their community. We realize that, but we want to get to know (them).”

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