The Capital of Annapolis

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Ellen Allen’s new storefront means customers won’t have to travel to Millersville to pick up their purse purchases.

Previously, her Ellen Allen Annapolis line had been a virtual store, with customers buying from retailers or online and retrieving their merchandise at the designer’s Millersville home. But her basement office crept into the rest of the home as her inventory of handbags, ties and scarves spread through the rest of the house. Sales have doubled each year since she’s been in the business.

So earlier this month, Allen moved her business into an 850-square-foot studio within an office building at 111 Chinquapin Round Road. Allen’s handbags — inspired by Annapolis architecture — have been geared toward women who have on-the-go lifestyle, with purses that have enough space for daily errands and smaller clutches that can carry cash and makeup for nights out.

Prices range from $26 for a Club Case on up to the $250 Eastport tote.

“(Our customers) love handbags, but they want to make their lives easier,” said Allen, who has been using social media to tell customers about the new space. “Handbags are a fun way to express your personality without going too far overboard with high fashion. They’re always comfortable. Shoes aren’t always comfortable.”

The Chinquapin Round Road studio will serve as the flagship for the Ellen Allen Annapolis line, but future plans are to branch out to other locations. It is among three businesses, including The Program LLC and Minuteman Press, that signed onto the office building in the last month. The 35,000-square-foot building was renovated last summer and is 70 percent leased.

“The focus is to cater to a more eclectic type of users that are looking for a creative, design-oriented (location),” said Trish Farrell, vice president of Mackenzie Commercial Real Estate Services LLC. “We’re really running the gamut on trying to keep it eclectic, creative and fun.”

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A 2011 report from Accessories magazine found handbags made up nearly 30 percent of the women’s accessories market, taking in $8.5 billion in sales. Handbags came in second place to jewelry purchases.

It is a statistic that Laura Messenger, a Queen Anne’s County resident, can relate to. She owns about 15 purses.

“I like (my handbags) to not be so delicate that I can’t throw them into my car,” said Messenger, who owns Ellen Allen’s Whitehall and Main Street Mini purses. “I love the patterns. People comment on them because they stand out.”

The Ellen Allen studio comes nearly four years after Allen launched her own label from her basement. She worked as an interior designer for 18 years and often went from house to house carrying her materials in laundry baskets. She wanted to create an industrial-sized bag for moms on the go, so she took notes from friends.

Annapolis architecture became her inspiration, so she began meshing bold stripes with intricate designs from the region. The state capitol building, William Paca House, the Hammond-Harwood House and other sites have served as muses. To start the business, Allen received a $200,000 loan from the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp.’s Arundel Business Loan Fund. That money helped get her sales representation along the East Coast.

Allen also wants to use the site as a classroom for courses such as wreath making. But for now, everyone — her staff of two, along with her husband and two sons — still are settling in.

“We did everything out of our home,” Allen said. “We have empty space in our home now for the first time in three-and-a-half years. We’re a little giddy. We don’t know what to do with ourselves.”

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