Clothing boutique brings culture to Florence

Owner of The Eclectic, Susann Elsass helps a customer find jewelry.

Nestled at the end of a small plaza on East Tennessee Street is a tiny shop, known as The Eclectic, full of culturally diverse goods and trinkets.

The definition of eclectic is deriving ideas, style, or taste from a broad and diverse range of sources, according to the Oxford Dictionary.

As they walk through the door, customers are immediately greeted by brightly colored clothing, a hint of incense and a warm bubbly voice welcoming them to The Eclectic.

Owner Susann Elsass said she hopes students feel transported when they enter her shop.

“I want it to feel like that ethnic marketplace I shopped at in Los Angeles,” Elsass said.

She opened the shop in November 2010 after making a bold move from Los Angeles to Florence a few years earlier.

“It chose me,” she said. “I would never in my life have thought that I wanted to live in Alabama. I was looking for some place bigger in Los Angeles.”

Elsass said she was looking for a place with a strong sense of community to retire. She became enticed by the low cost of living and property taxes, and the arts community.

“The reality is there’s not a whole lot of communities anywhere in the U.S., where you have live theater, live music, art galleries, festivals to the extent that we do,” Elsass said.

Elsass said she is always thrilled to see students come back in the fall.

“I like having young people in the store,” she said.

Senior Lauren Risher said she appreciates the culture The Eclectic brings to the area.

“The Eclectic is a store you don’t see every day,” Risher said. “It brings the culture of many other countries to this area through fashion and clothing that comes straight from the source. Since I can’t travel the world at will, it’s a great place to go and to shop and to pretend I can.”

Working with organizations that empower women is important, Elsass said.

“I get really excited when I connect with an organization that is empowering women, internationally especially,” she said.

The Eclectic’s products are imported from 34 different countries, representing every continent except Antarctica.

Elsass said she’s not against the idea of buying locally, but thinks there are some things that are more appropriate to import.

She said she focuses on ordering items that are considered traditional art forms and that speak to the culture and craft of that community.

“I get a lot of clothing from India, from Nepal, which is wonderful,” she said. “They don’t even charge import duties in the U.S. if you order from Nepal because it’s considered a Third World challenged country.”

Elsass said she spends a lot of time looking for new products on the Internet, trying to keep things fresh. She orders clothing from Thailand, small things from Guatemala and Peru, and jewelry from Indonesia.

“I can order from India like I’m ordering from Atlanta,” she said. “It’s really an illustration in what a small world it is.”

As an art major in college she learned a lot about color and shape, she said. She now uses what she learned to help customers choose what colors and styles would look best on them.

“I have ladies that literally trust me,” Elsass said. “They want me to pick out something that is going to flatter their body type and skin tone, brighten their face and take off 10 pounds.”