Handbag Heaven: Couple opens new shop for women who love purses

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 24, 2008

By Susan Shinn
Ladies, walk up to 103 W. Innes St. on the square and you’ve found it ó Handbag Heaven.
It’s an aptly named shop for women who love purses.
Proprietors Melissa and Kevin Hunter opened the shop the day after Thanksgiving.
Both of them have been in business management for more than 15 years, helping others build their businesses. Now they want to do the same for themselves.
“We both still have other jobs as well,” says Melissa, 40. “This is our dream, to have a business together.”
Melissa hopes to eventually expand her business, perhaps one day with other locations.
“We have plenty of room here for what we’ve got,” Melissa says. “But designer handbags and designer shoes go hand in hand.”
For now, the focus is on the purses.
The shop carries a variety of name brands, from Coach and Dooney & Bourke to high-end names such as Prada and Fendi. Other brands include Aigner, Michael Kors, Tignanello, Kathy Van Zeeland and B. Makowsky.
They are also offer private label purses at reasonable prices.
Melissa and Kevin, who’s 47, are just happy to have the doors open.
“We went through quite a few obstacles,” Melissa says.
The first was convincing the brands to allow her store to sell them. They were encouraged to move to larger markets, such as Concord or Winston-Salem.
“We just really had to fight to keep it here,” Melissa says.
The second was getting the shop ready to open only 12 days after the previous occupants moved out.
“We had so many people knocking on the windows wanting to come in,” Melissa says.
Women will do just about anything to get to nice purses.
The couple ó she’s from Stanley, he’s from Huntersville ó moved here five years ago with Kevin’s job.
“It really became home for us,” Melissa says. “We had fallen in love with Salisbury and didn’t want to leave. We had to fight to prove the town could support this business.”
Their son, Blake Farmer, who helps out with the store, is a senior at East Rowan High School. Kevin’s younger brother, Aaron Hummel, also comes in.
For now, Melissa and Kevin are keeping their day jobs. She’s a bookkeeper and he is plant manager at Matlock’s Used Parts in Cleveland.
But Melissa’s passion is purses.
“I absolutely love purses ó all kinds,” she says.
“I have about this much of one closet,” Kevin says, holding his hands a couple of feet apart. “She has the rest.”
Melissa carries a variety of styles in a wide range of prices, she says, because “every woman deserves to have a nice purse.”
Kevin confirms this.
“Even if something’s got her down,” he says of his wife, “a pair of shoes or a purse does wonders.”
(For him, that would be a classic car part.)
“It just gives you a pick-me-up,” Melissa says of a new purse.
The couple say they’ve been warmly received by their fellow business owners.
“They have welcomed us,” Melissa says. “They say that adding a new shop brings more business to them.”
She adds that she’s very happy with the team atmosphere she’s found downtown.
The Hunters have talked about opening a handbag store for the past 10 years ó as long as they’ve been married.
“I wouldn’t have even done this if it hadn’t been for him,” Melissa says of her husband.
“She had the idea and the knowledge of the product ó what is desirable, what is in style,” Kevin says. “She just needed a push.”
Melissa opens a cabinet and pulls out a leather Prada bag.
The all-leather bag smells wonderful and Kevin points out that every stitch is made by hand.
“These are beautiful pocketbooks,” Melissa says of the Prada and Fendi bags, both Italian. “We didn’t stock a whole lot, but we have had a lot of people buy Pradas for Christmas presents or anniversary presents.
“A Prada bag is like a nice piece of jewelry.”Kevin adds, “That bag could be owned by one person for 40 or 50 years and then handed down to a daughter. They are very well crafted.”
One customer came in to look at a Prada bag with her husband, Kevin says, but didn’t want to hold it, because she knew she wouldn’t want to let it go.
“I’ll be back,” the husband told Kevin.
Another gorgeous bag Melissa points out is a BCBG Max Azria bag. Its soft goat leather is trimmed with crocodile.
It’s fabulous.
“Everything I carry is something I love, or I think someone else can fall in love with,” Melissa says.
One line that’s been very popular are the animal print bags priced at $40.
“We’ve had to restock three times,” Kevin says.
Believe it or not, Kevin came up with the store’s name ó kinda by accident.
When the boxes were arriving at home, and female classmates of Blake visited, Kevin always said, “You’ve got to come into our handbag heaven.”
The name stuck.
“To a woman, this is heaven,” Melissa says.
Hours for Handbag Heaven are 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. For more information, call 980-521-3229.