MOD breaks the mold in Four Corners

As the current financial crisis sends an uncertain nation scurrying for shelter, Four Corner's MOD Boston boutique is in the midst of a confident expansion that will add a men's section and an online store in time for holiday shopping.

Owner Patrick Targete's combination of entrepreneurial skill, creative marketing and community involvement - along with the keen fashion eye of manager Janeen Williams-Casey - is propelling the Washington Street shop forward and solidifying it as an anchor of the neighborhood.

"That's what's keeping us in business," said Targete.

MOD Boston offers dresses, tops, jeans and accessories - in sizes for all body types - with a focus on women in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Williams-Casey - who previously worked with Filenes, Neiman Marcus and director Spike Lee - said the goal is to be unique and one step ahead of the trend.

"We're not just pushing clothing," she said. "Customers come here not only for a look, but for an image. We maintain exclusivity with pieces they know you can't find anywhere else."

The boutique's success has caught the attention of cable's Neighborhood Network News, which recently did a shoot at the location. Shelly Goehring, Four Corners Main Street executive director, said MOD Boston's savvy business strategy is an example for others during the economic downturn that has already hit the area.

"It didn't take Lehman Brothers tanking to cause an issue," she said. "As soon as the foreclosures started, we started feeling it. If you have people losing their homes, you have less shoppers."

Along with an expanding fashion line of its own, MOD Boston actively engages the community to ensure it's a go-to spot when women need something for a special occasion - be it a party, a night at the club or a business engagement. The store markets regionally and its logo is often on event flyers. An e-mail list keeps clientele updated on sales and new products.

"Cross-promoting has been key," said Williams-Casey, adding sometimes they have special nights at the store for social groups like book clubs or sororities. "It's not just about coming here to buy, it's about the experience and coming back."

Four Corners Main Street's Goehring said the neighborhood has yet to lose a business, though she is concerned about some that are just hanging on. Closing shops could reverse the positive development trend of recent years.

"The fear is that there may be more open storefronts, which would impact the quality of life," she said, adding that more desolate streets would discourage investment and potentially increase crime.

In addition, difficulty in accessing capital brought on by the crisis could result in less infrastructure and housing development - further reducing customers. Goehring said innovative businesses such as MOD Boston may be the answer to making it through tough times.

"The way you've always done it isn't necessarily the best way to survive," she said.

Other factors work in MOD Boston's favor. Targete owns the building, which helps keep prices down. He also hires college interns who want experience learning about business.

MOD Boston was born in 2005 when Targete, who has a real estate development business, decided to diversify his portfolio and open a shop in one of his vacant buildings.

He redid the storefront with elegant silver pillars and a full-glass display that causes double-takes. The interior's exposed brick walls, colorful artwork and wood floor is equally inviting. MOD Boston looks like it should be on Newbury Street, which Targete said is a common comment.

"What I've learned from my real estate experience is if you create a nice store, you're going to keep good clientele," he said. "In retail you judge the book by its cover."

MOD Boston is deliberately not on Newbury Street, according to Targete. He grew up in Mattapan and was often forced to travel to get what he wanted.

"When I had the chance, I wanted to give back to the community," he said.

Targete credits his team of designers, stylists and marketers he works with for much of the success.

"I try to be the umbrella," he said. "The key is making sure you have the right people on board."

Targete will maintain this philosophy as MOD Men opens next door and doubles the boutique's size. He said women often bring their boyfriends and husbands along when shopping and adding a men's section was a natural move.

The online version of MOD will feature the same apparel sold in-house.

"It will take us to the next level and worldwide," said Targete. "I can only sell so much with 2,000 square feet."