Fruitful business keeps growing Clothing shop is part of revived Savage Mill

July 12, 1996|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Suzy Coppola is sewing the seed for a new line of clothing -- fruit and vegetable designs for children.

Soon your smiling little tomato will be able to dress up in a big, red one-piece outfit that looks like the fruit.

Or perhaps you'd prefer a carrot, a red pepper or an ear of corn.

"We'll make anything, as long as it's fun," said the 34-year-old Coppola, who designs and peddles her wares in her shop at Historic Savage Mill.

Courtney's Closet shop -- named after Coppola's 6-year-old daughter -- is one of the latest in a growing number of ventures at the old textile-mill-turned-shopping-mall.

With encouragement from the mill's managing consultant, Steven Adler -- a former owner of a regional group of Big and Tall men's clothing shops who was hired last October to help develop the shopping center's businesses -- more and more creative shops such as Coppola's are cropping up.

The turnaround at the mill began last fall, less than a year after the mall emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The upscale, mostly antique furniture shopping mall is now 95 percent leased -- up from 65 percent before Adler arrived.

"People are realizing there are more things going on here," Adler said. "We've changed some of our marketing strategy. We had a spot on [WUSA] Channel 9, and we've been on WBAL."

Adler wants to lure and create enough businesses by the end of the year to develop a waiting list for space that will require the mill to build on 6 acres of undeveloped land that the mall owns. He also wants to renovate the mill's attic and enclose an atrium that is rarely used.

"We're trying to figure out ways to create new space," Adler said. "Before, there wasn't a need."

Rough estimates indicate that 400,000 people visit the mill each year.

Adler expects that customer base to grow when the used-car "superstore" CarMax opens next year at the Freestate Development, a more than 100-acre shopping center that is about a quarter-mile from the mill.

The attention, Adler said, makes the time ripe for Coppola and others to start their businesses.

Coppola has been operating a clothing design business for about two years, pitching her ideas to manufacturers throughout the world.

Last fall, Adler suggested that she start producing her designs herself and open a retail operation at the mill, where she maintained offices for her design business.

"She was doing all of these incredibly talented things for other people," Adler said. "It would have been a missed opportunity for Savage Mill."

Clothing sizes range from infant to children's size 10. Vegetables and fruit run smaller -- only newborns to toddlers. Prices start at about $40.

In the vegetable line, you'll find nylon and cotton one- and two-piece outfits. Coppola's vegetable designs usually include tTC hoods that look like stems on vegetables.

"She just has an unusual talent to do this stuff," said Jason Minteer, a 19-year-old Gambrills resident who works as Coppola's assistant. "It's a lot of fun working with her. She's very fast-paced, though. You've got to think and do 20 things at a time."

Coppola started her design business in the garage of her Oakland Mills village home two years ago, pushing husband Alan's things to the side.

She wore ear muffs and mittens during the winter as she sewed and worked on her computers. The sewing machine and electric heaters often would blow fuses in the house. "My husband calls me the tornado," Coppola said.

When she outgrew the garage, Coppola moved to the mill, starting in a 10-by-12-foot office. Coppola grew her business to a 1,200-square-foot operation, which will include the retail shop, Courtney's Closet, set to open Aug. 15.

And whether it's vegetables or any other line, Coppola says she can create it.

"You say, 'I need this made,' and we'll figure out a way to make it," she said.

Pub Date: 7/12/96

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