By Sue Pascoe
Stephen Sondheim wrote “I’m Still Here” for the 1971 musical Follies, about dealing with the ups and downs in life. That same theme of survivability is the charm of store owner Vivian Foster on Via de la Paz.
“I’m the longest-standing dress shop in the Palisades,” said Foster, who opened Vivian’s Boutique 30 years ago. When she arrived in Pacific Palisades as a single mom in 1986, she sold real estate, sold wholesale clothing in a small office behind her current space, and also worked as a cocktail waitress. Her daughter attended Palisades Elementary School.
At that time, there were numerous dress shops in the Palisades, including Whispers, Village Store, Julia Ann (a lingerie store) and La Femme.
“I did great clothes for great prices,” Foster told the News, and her business model proved successful. Residents loved her selection and soon she found herself concentrating solely on her clothing store.
“I outgrew the space and moved to the courtyard off Sunset, next to the Glendale Bank [now Citibank]. That’s where I met Arnie Wishnick, who worked at the bank,” Foster said. Wishnick has been executive director of the Chamber of Commerce since 1993.
After more than eight years on Sunset, Foster once again needed more space. “Heidi Henkle, the acupuncturist, took over my space,” said Foster, who gave it a special blessing so that Henkle’s practice would flourish.
Foster relocated to the 970 Monument building and remained there for 16 years, surviving a boom-and-bust era. “Blockbuster and Kinko’s were in that building and more than 100 people a day came to the center,” said Foster, whose business thrived.
Initially, parking was free, but after vandalism in the underground parking lot, a gate was set up and people had to pay. “I paid for my clients’ parking,” Foster said, which cut into her profits. She was also affected when Blockbuster, Kinko’s and other tenants moved out and were not replaced.
Still, she loved the location, until her “aunt” Joan Miller, who owned the 875 Via building, asked if she would return. Foster, who grew up in West Covina, said she came to the Palisades because of Miller. “She offered me the place in back [in 1986] and wanted me to sell real estate with her.” Miller died this past year and Foster said simply, “I lost a mom.”
Appreciative of the way she was mentored by Miller, Foster does the same. “Every year I bring in one or two girls (usually customers’ daughters), train them and give them work experience,” said the grandmother of three girls and a boy.
One reason for Vivian’s continuing success is that she carries numerous sizes, from 0 to 20. “In the United States, the average dress size is 12 and the average woman weighs 160 pounds,” Foster noted.
Another reason is the cost and timeliness of her merchandise. “My price points are very reasonable,” Foster said. “And I do get new things in the store three to four times a week.”
Vivian’s Boutique is also distinctive because it caters to so many ages. “I’m a normal shopping store,” Foster said. “I have customers ages 13 to 90.”
A few things have changed in the last 30 years. Women’s feet are bigger and Foster now carries size 11 shoes. Trends this year include Army-green jackets and different “funky” jackets, boots and booties (ankle-high boots).
“Leggings are still huge and long, thin, fuzzy sweaters are in,” said Foster, who describes her shop as a specialty boutique with low prices. In addition to dresses, skirts, tops, jackets, hats and shoes, she also carries jewelry.
A customer (and friend) Paulette Dubey said, “She sells things that are unique, elegant and one of a kind. People wonder where I get my clothes. It’s clothing you don’t find other places.”
For years, Foster has helped dress women for the annual Woman’s Club fashion show. “I love the Woman’s Club,” she said. “I wish more women would join. It’s a great organization of gals.”
She’s excited about Caruso’s Palisades Village, scheduled to open in fall 2018. “I think it’s going to be wonderful. We’ll have all that parking and the [business] morale will be high.
“I think Caruso has the Midas touch and he’ll put us back on the map,” Foster said, noting that when she first came to the Palisades, “business was booming and people wanted to be seen. It will be like the old days when Mort’s was around.”
She invites people to stop by and say “hi.”
“I wanted to be a therapist but I have a dress shop instead,” said Foster, who lives in Sherman Oaks. During our interview at the shop, several women stopped by to chat with her. “We have group therapy in here daily,” she joked. “Kids and dogs are welcome.”