BY LEE ANN SANDWEISS
There’s nothing in fashion that says Hoosier more than a Vera Bradley tote.
Bloomington now has two locally owned retailers that offer the popular Indiana-made line of colorful handbags, luggage, and other accessories. Based in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Vera Bradley was started in 1982 by two enterprising friends, Patricia Miller and Barbara Bradley Baekgaard, who thought women needed pretty, lightweight luggage. As a result, they made some colorful fabric totes on a basement Ping-Pong table and named the company after Baekgaard’s mother. In 2012, Vera Bradley grossed more than $400 million in sales.
Anita Hacker, owner of Merle Norman Cosmetics at 101 W. Kirkwood, says her store was selected as a retailer for the line because “VB wanted a presence on the Square, so we started carrying it in late August.”
Hacker, a Bloomington native who has owned the store since 2010, says the Vera Bradley customer base is very similar to that of Merle Norman. “Both Merle Norman and Vera Bradley are intergenerational lines. Mothers and daughters come in the store and shop together for both; sometimes Grandma is there, too,” she says. “People erroneously tend to think of Merle Norman as ‘old woman make-up,’ but their products are developed for all skin types.”
Across town at College Mall, Chelsea’s also carries the full line of Vera Bradley products. The store opened in November 2011—11/11/11, to be exact, says store manager Debra Walcott.
Chelsea’s is part of Index Notion Company, a family business owned by James and Jennifer Sinclair of Carmel, Indiana; James’ grandfather started Index Notion in 1898 and operated Index Variety stores, which were similar to the old five-and-dimes. The company now owns and operates 29 Wooden Key Hallmark stores, one of which is in Eastland Plaza.
Says Walcott, “We carry three vendors—Vera Bradley, Pandora, and Brighton [the latter two are metallic-jewelry and accessory lines]. All are very high quality, but price isn’t an obstacle. If someone wants a gift for under $20, they can find it here.”
Vera Bradley products sold at the stores include handbags, duffel bags, luggage, backpacks, agenda books, pen-and-pencil sets, aprons, pot holders, tea towels, recipe books, totes, market bags, umbrellas, cosmetic bags, eyeglass cases, wallets, smartphone wristlets, iPad covers, Kindle covers, and iPhone cases.