Here’s a bombshell: A plus size boutique is opening on Grand Avenue in St. Paul. Imagine: being able to shop the charming avenue, filled with independent stores, for fashionable clothes in sizes 14 to 24. It’s a long-time dream for Denise Alden, who is tired of shopping online and bored with Lane Bryant. She’s calling her boutique Bombshell and plans to stock labels like Kiyonna, Igigi, Lucie Lu and many others. She’s staying away from basics – “The big box stores do casual well,” Alder says. “It’s the great dress or skirt; the beautiful fabrications.” Walls are being painted as we speak at 794 Grand, next to Bruegger’s. Hang tight curvy ladies – you’ll be shopping Grand by August.

I’ve never taken off nail polish that still looked this good. This photo was taken after two weeks of Shellac, when the only sign of wear was growth at the base of my nail bed. So, should you get shellacked? Read my review in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Sales are not Galleria’s style. The posh Edina, Minn. center doesn’t technically forbid discount racks, but garish sale signs are frowned upon. “It’s just not our customers’ favorite thing,” said Jill Noack, vice president and general manager of Galleria. “They don’t want to buy a dress and see it on sale the next week.” The center may be charmed (it consistently boasts an occupancy rate higher than just about any competitor in town and is home to Minnesota’s only Tiffany & Co. and Louis Vuitton stores), but that doesn’t mean everything sells at full price. So shops have gotten in the habit of outsourcing. Len Druskin has created a whole new business with its Len Druskin Outlet stores; others team up for off-site liquidation sales or sell to outlet retailers. Well, if you can’t beat the sales, Noack figured the center should try to stage its own – Galleria style. For the first time ever Thursday, July 15 to Saturday, July 17, Galleria will host the Galleria Clearance Experience with food sampling, product demos and, of course, lots and lots of discounts – as much as 80 percent off at some stores. Around 40 retailers are participating. If it’s a hit – and hard to believe it wouldn’t be – Noack says she could imagine doing this type of major blow-out twice a year. No more. And what happens to the sale merchandise that hasn’t sold by the end of the three-day “experience?” Noack hopes it will disappear – to charities, outlets – anywhere but her center. We’ll see.

On Friday, July 16, Nordstrom will introduce new fall merchandise at discounted prices. After August 1, the prices go up. The Nordstrom Anniversary Sale is a sale for planners who can think ahead to leather boots and wool suits when outside it’s 90 and humid. It is a sale designed to make shoppers feel special – like they’re getting a deal before anyone else. But getting that opportunity with everyone else isn’t enough – the department store lets some customers pre-shop the sale. Ask and most sales associates will say the pre-shopping opportunity – which means avoiding crowds, getting first pick and having your selections shipped to your home at no cost – is open to Nordstrom card holders. But I know some credit card holders who don’t get invited. And I know at least one person who doesn’t have a Nordstrom card, or an unlimited budget, and still, she gets invited to pre-shop every year. So what’s the real story? Ask. Nicely. The pre-shopping is open through Wednesday, July 14, I was told when I called the children’s shoe department today. At first, the salesperson told me I’d need a Nordstrom card to shop ahead. When I pressed, and mentioned my friend, she said I could come in make my picks from the new sale merch. Sales associates are out to establish relationships, and helping shoppers buy early and feel excited about it is the perfect way to create those ties. Meanwhile, If you’re content to preview the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale online – including beauty exclusives, click here.

Wow. Really, wow. I knew Excelsior was closing Water Street for tonight’s Exc & The City Fashion Show. But never did I expect the audience to fill Water Street. More than 400 people, from high school students to grandmas, came out to see the best of downtown Excelsior’s boutiques. There were sexy shorts and hot swimsuits and crazy Vikings-themed fur leg warmers and chic shades. Excelsior is no longer a place to go mainly for the scenery and ice cream – there are several stores with contemporary fashions, high end swimwear and bridal, men’s apparel, gifts, the best parfumerie in the Twin Cities (La Petite Parfumerie), jewelry, home furnishings, beauty salons and more. Once a sleepy little main street in the shadows of  nearby lakefront shopping district, Wayzata, Excelsior has become the bigger draw. Career retailer Bill Damberg, who opened casual apparel store Brightwater in Excelsior just a few weeks ago, said deciding where to locate was obvious. “I sat in coffee houses everywhere – Grand Avenue, Linden Hills, West End, Wayzata, and Excelsior was the one place where people were talking about what’s going on in town. There’s a sense of community here, and that’s the kind of community I want to be involved in.” It’s a good reminder that a town or shopping center can’t rest on its reputation. Rent is cheaper in Excelsior than Wayzata. Retailers say Excelsior’s local government minimizes the red tape. And the stores work together to promote their town. They’re extremely organized, with a calendar of events and a theme for each. During Girls Night Out every Thursday, you’ll find virtually every shop and restaurant participating with extended hours and great specials. There’s no attitude, just a whole lot of enthusiasm, and shoppers are responding in kind. 

Road trip

I spent more time planning toys, music and activities than I did packing clothes for a family car trip to Chicago. Yes, I’m a total mom, but at least I threw in a pair of heels. In my bag of tricks there was the CD of Dr. Seuss stories, sticker books, silly putty, a magnet board. Before we hit the road, I dropped $30 on Zingo to Go and the Melissa & Doug Travel Memory Game – both huge hits with my 5 year and even the 2 year old, who enjoyed moving all the parts. For about 10 minutes. What occupied nearly two hours – more than any other plaything by far: pipe cleaners. My older guy built himself a spy machine, looping the pipe cleaners into other toys and connecting the chain to his seat and a ceiling handle. My little guy followed suit. The building and imaginary play, which involved catching some bad guys along I-94 (good thing, since cops are too busy issuing tickets), had them completely engaged. Cheap, easy and, yes, one of those maybe-I’m-not-such-a-bad-parent moments, considering the portable DVD player at their feet.