For Heather Howe, the most important part of being a local business owner is taking excellent care of her clients. “If you don’t live and breathe customer service you may as well close your doors,” she says. When you shop local, you get that kind of special personalized attention—and with Howe, you also get a fashionable wardrobe, too.
Heather Howe holds the philosophy of being a hands-on owner and opened Free Rein Boutique, at Grossmont Center in 2016. Heather spends most of her time in the boutique and can be found working hard to provide personalized care to clients assisted by her cousin and a couple of interns from High Tech High School. Howe loves to describe Free Rein as a “bohemian-inspired boutique.”
“We have great prices and carry unique fashions that you won’t see everyone else wearing,” she says. “We have a lot of moms and daughters that shop here because we cater to all ages.” Heather went on to say, “We have several amazing local vendors in our store that make handmade jewelry, children’s clothing, plant-based soaps, essential oils and so much more. We also do customized jewelry and bring in local clothing designers for special pop-up events.”
Free Rein is well-known for its fantastic selection of beautiful boutique dresses that are perfect for weddings, bridal showers or date nights. Also popular are the shop’s jewelry pieces crafted by local designers, the swimwear and casual bohemian clothing brands such as Lovestitch, Angie, Fate, Lush and Umgee. It’s also a terrific place to discover up-and-coming San Diego designers and artisans—the boutique frequently hosts pop-up shops, which is another great way to promote buying local.
One of the many great things about shopping local at independently owned boutiques like Free Rein is the unique styles that can be found. The likelihood of seeing other women wearing an item that can be found at Free Rein is far less than that of a large chain store with dozens of the same items.
Because Free Rein carefully curates its selection of wares, you can leave with a shopping bag full of items that you can’t find anywhere else. The end result: fabulous fashions that you can mix and match to create a style that is uniquely you.
Another great thing about “mom-and-pop” shops like Heather Howe’s Free Rein Boutique is you get firsthand knowledgeable fashion expertise from the owner and sales assistants. You won’t be left wondering what earrings to pair with your tunic top or how to pull together a look for a special event. In many ways, Howe and her sales associates act as personal shoppers for many of her loyal clients and they can for you too.
“I believe our customers love that I get to know their wants and needs,” she says. “I know them by name and I have built great friendships with so many of them. People are busy, so they get instant customer service and they are in and out quickly. They love that they can look on Instagram and send me a message to hold a product for them until they get off work.” It’s no wonder that La Mesa residents have voted Free Rein Boutique as first place gold winner for Best Boutique in the city for two years in a row.
Howe pays close attention to her customers and listens to them; she incorporates ways to better cater to their needs and on-the-go lifestyles. For instance, something new that Free Rein recently added is customized airbrush tanning. “Our customers love it! It’s all about convenience,” Howe says. “Customers get to shop and then get that youthful airbrushed glow from a plant-based spray tan.”
Howe also believes in giving back to the community that has supported her. In addition to hosting pop-up events, Free Rein Boutique also participates in pop-up shops at local salons and takes part in many other events, such as the Miss Jamul Pageant. Plus, they offer great deals on the already affordable prices at the boutique thanks to super discounts and special offers; you can find and keep track of them on the Grossmont Center promotions page.
Howe is proud to be a part of the Grossmont Center community, which is home to many other local tenants. “I think Grossmont Center is a perfect spot for our shop because there aren’t a lot of women’s shopping options in La Mesa,” she says. “We are conveniently located near Target, Walmart and Macys, which makes it easy to pick up everyday essentials and then shop at our specialty store for that perfect unique dress for any special event.”
Howe is also proud to be a small business owner. “What I love is getting to know my customers,” Howe says. “I have met so many amazing, empowering women. La Mesa really believes in supporting small business and although being a small business owner is not easy, it keeps me on my toes.”
Howe, and Free Rein Boutique are prime examples of why it’s so important to shop local. Supporting these hard-working entrepreneurs who are committed to providing the community with the best shopping experience is a wonderful thing. You get quality goods and services, and the community also gets a thriving local economy. It also stimulates others who have dreams and visions of opening their own businesses. The neighborhood continues to flourish and be vibrant—and in the case of Free Rein Boutique, stylish—gathering place that makes the city even more special.