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Making People Happy - Ecco Clothes continues to thrive after 30 years!

12/09/2022 02:03PM ● By MERYL SIEGMAN

When native Vermonter Lara Heath Allen was growing up in Burlington’s north end, visiting stores on the city’s Church Street with her mom was always a big treat, but years later, when shopping for a dress to wear at her graduation from UVM, she realized that Burlington was lacking in choices. 

After graduation, Lara was hired for a few waitressing gigs and then worked at various clothing and shoe stores in Burlington—then she landed the job of her dreams. Working at an individually-owned clothing boutique on College Street, she learned the ins and outs of operating a retail store. After the shop closed, Lara decided it was time to strike out on her own.



Originally named Eccoli, meaning “here they are” in Italian, the shop opened in 1992 on College Street in Burlington. A year later, Lara renamed it Ecco, and began specializing in dresses and formal wear, a niche market that was underserved in Burlington. “I loved helping people celebrate milestones and special occasions. They were able to come in and find the perfect dress.” Lara says of her early days. “I liked making people happy and being part of their lives. More importantly, I found something I truly loved to do and I am still doing it, every day of my life.” 

The shop was such a success that in 1995, Lara moved Ecco to the Church Street Marketplace, taking a space at 63 Church. Several years later, she expanded into the space next door at 61 Church, which had been the location of the Shoe Horn where she worked when she was just starting out. “


The business has always been a success; constantly going in the right direction,” Lara tells us. “When I expanded the space, I made the difference in rent in a single day!” She soon added designer denim to her collection, putting Ecco on the map as a go to boutique on the Church Street Marketplace. “I adored denim when I was in high school,” she explains. “Adding it to Ecco’s collections doubled my business.” 

As the store’s popularity and growth continued to gain momentum, in 2009 Lara was approached by the landlord of an even larger storefront located on Church and Bank in what was a large Urban Outfitters space. As fate would have it, that location, 81 Church Street, was the same address as the original Magram’s she had worked at when she was young. Ecco has been there ever since. 



Ecco’s success is based on Lara and her staff connecting with customers and becoming part of their families. “I dabbled in online sales a few times,” she explains. “But it can’t replace the experience that people have when they come to the store. I spend a lot of time training the staff. We put a lot of effort into customer service and spend a lot of time with our customers. That’s what makes Ecco special.” She acknowledges that it’s possible to grow her business on the internet, but that is not where her heart is. Rather, it’s firmly beating inside her 4200sq. brick and mortar establishment. 

Ecco’s expertly curated selection is so well thought out and diverse, it appeals to just about everyone, including college students, tourists, kids and even grandparents. “I have clients who used to shop here as teenagers,” Lara says. “Now they’re coming in with their own kids. We sell to grandmothers as well, and have a small men’s section.”



Lara has a knack for keeping up with what her customers want. When asked about the recent interest in eco-friendly clothes, Lara explains that the store carries some brands that use recycled materials and others that produce their items making the smallest carbon footprint possible. As the industry and consumers are becoming more environmentally conscious, Lara hopes to add more suppliers who share he goal of making a difference in the future of the planet. 


But equally important, Lara explains, is that, “clients often buy investment pieces at Ecco: Those luxury denim jeans may cost a little more, but they’re really special, and will remain someone’s go-to jeans for years to come.” So instead of buying lots of inexpensive clothing that is disposable, her clients are making their own contribution to the environment by purchasing fewer, higher quality and more enduring pieces. 




When asked about the secrets of Ecco’s success, Lara points out that she does all the buying, attending trade shows and meeting with vendors. “I have a great sense of who my customer is,” she explains. “I also have great relationships with suppliers – most of the lines I sell I’ve carried for a very long time. And my clients are very familiar with them.” While her merchandise is not high fashion, it ranges from everyday luxury to that special occasion dress. She also continues to stock the perennial favorites, including stylish tee shirts for those who are on a budget. The extensive selection includes designers such as Mother Denim, Susana Monaco, Vince, Citizens of Humanity, Velvet, Paige Premium Denim, AG Denim, Bella Dahl, Dolce Vita, and Michael Stars. 


The store’s location on Church Street is an enormous asset as well. It seems that everyone who comes to Burlington visits the Church Street Marketplace, especially when the weather is inviting. “We are in a huge growth place right now, “ Lara says, “This year and last year were very encouraging – in fact, the best years we’ve ever had, which I didn’t expect because of the pandemic.” She concludes, “I love having a boutique that is so popular. My customers love shopping here and come in every chance they get when they’re in the area. After 30 years, Ecco is still everybody’s favorite boutique. It’s been really incredible.”


 81 Church Street Burlington, VT 05401


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