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Faribo West Mall Manager Laura Sterling, right, has opened up a new boutique with one of the mall’s previous tenants, city of Faribault employee Kari Casper. (Andrew Deziel/southernminn.com)

Faribo West Mall Manager Laura Sterling has teamed up with one of her tenants to open up a new boutique that opened for business towards the end of last month.

Sterling and Kari Casper, a staffer in the city’s Community & Economic Development Department who also works on the side at Jo-Ann’s Fabrics, opened their new boutique under the name “Kari’s and Laura’s Boutique.”

The boutique is next door to the former location of “Kari’s,” which is now occupied by lawyer Gary Dahle. Casper opened up shop in the small corner room last fall and it was quickly bursting with handmade, one of a kind clothing and jewelry.

First relying on word-of-mouth to build her clientele, Casper began attending events and relying increasingly on social media. “Kari’s” was her first brick-and-mortar storefront, though hours were a bit limited by her busy schedule.

By the time she opened her boutique, Casper’s commitment to providing quality specialty jewelry and clothing at an affordable price was well known in the community. On the first night alone, sales were so successful that she managed to cover rent for the year.

In addition to the rise of online retailers, a trend strengthened by the COVID-19 pandemic, Casper has said that malls like Faribo’s suffer from the reputation that they are failing. Pushing back against that perception is one major reason she decided to set up shop at the mall.

At the new boutique, Casper’s handmade clothing and jewelry are still on prominent display. Since the pandemic hit, she has also branched out into masks. Each one has a unique design and flexible ear straps, with smaller masks also available for children.

Alongside Casper’s products is Sterling’s artwork. A longtime painter, Sterling has traditionally treated painting as just a hobby. Now her works line the boutique and her welcome sign greets customers as they enter the store.

Nearly everything in the store is handmade, though Casper said she has started buying some of the shirts as well as purses. Variety is always on the menu, with new products added to the store consistently.

Even though the new boutique is in a larger location than the former “Kari’s,” it’s still cramped with jewelry, art and clothing in nearly every corner. However, Sterling said the business could soon upgrade from its 800 square feet of space to close to 3,000.

Several businesses at the mall are preparing to play “musical chairs” as construction work wraps up. The north end of the mall is being renovated to house a school for area children with disabilities that will take up nearly the entire space.

Since taking over as mall manager five years ago, Sterling has worked hard to organize events at the mall, bring in new stores and in general burnish the mall’s image as a place where “things happen” in Faribault.

Though the pandemic led to a temporary halt on social gatherings, Sterling said the mall is making a comeback. The Taste of Faribault successfully brought hundreds to the mall last week, and Sterling said that she expects regular crowds to increase during the winter months.

“We have walkers now, and once it starts getting colder we’ll have 100 walkers a day,” she noted.

Reach Reporter Andrew Deziel at 507-333-3129 or follow him on Twitter @FDNandrew. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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