Talk: Angela Phelps

In this week’s TALK series, McLean Today sits down with Angela Phelps, owner and founder, Le Village Marché & Boutique, which recently opened in McLean’s Chesterbrook Shopping Center. The  French-inspired home décor and gift store is already known to locals for their original store located in Arlington’s Village at Shirlington since March 2007. Whether you need a gift, something for yourself, or just an escape from the stresses of life outside their doors, Phelps encourages you to come to Le Village Marché & Boutique and feel as if you’re strolling through a Parisian flea market.

Q.  Why did you choose McLean for the new store?

The same developers that redid the Shirlington, property 16, 17 years ago, are redeveloping this Chesterbrook property. When the leasing tenant coordinator reached out to me, he said, “You know, we’ve got this great property in McLean, we’re redoing it. It’s been sort of a quiet spot for a long time and there’s a big need, and we would love a gift shop.” Basically as soon as he said that J. McLaughlin was going in, I thought, Ding, ding, ding, that is my customer. I said, Huh, this wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Q. Walk me back to the original shop opening —  what were you doing before selling these beautiful things?

Before selling beautiful, smelly candles? Well actually, I had been in radio and I did a lot of media and communications. My last job was in publishing. I was having an early midlife crisis trying to think about what I’d like to be doing and what I’d like my life to look like. I had a lot of really good jobs but I just always felt like, they were just not... it was like square peg, round hole. I just always felt like I was really, really good at something, I just didn’t know what it was. I feel like when you start asking the questions, the universe sends you the answers. Or at least sends you in the right direction.

Q. Why a French gift store, what’s the inspiration?

I love the idea of simplifying and not having to commute downtown every day and having a little shop in a little neighborhood. I had gone to Paris with my mom in 2000 and I thought, You know the French, they know how to live. There’s something here that’s magical. We can take a little bit away from that. They were redeveloping Shirlington. I contacted the leasing guy and the rest is history. Sixteen years ago, I opened a small little shop there and then I expanded to another, larger location in Shirlington. Then I had opened a a small, second location at Cathedral Commons up on Wisconsin Avenue in 2015 when they were redeveloping that property. It was a five-year lease and it ended in 2020. I thought, “Yeah [Covid arrived] this is good time. How about I just wrap this up and move and just focus on the Shirlington store.” Thankfully I was able to and we came back busier than we’ve ever been after the pandemic.

Q. What makes it an item that says Le Village Marché & Boutique?

I’m very much inspired by the French markets in Paris, in the South of France. I love that you can stumble upon these lovely little markets and you’re going to obviously find things like the French soaps and the French linens and tea towels and tea knives, glassware. I love the idea of mixing in a little bit of old. So you’ll stumble upon this gorgeous china or old piece of furniture, old typewriter. I’ve always loved to be able to mix that in. I feel like when you come into a new space like we’ve just done , it’s a brand new space — white walls, everything is so new —  adding a little bit of some older elements gives the place a little bit of soul. I moved into the space and once I got the furniture, I thought, You know what, I think I need to go antiquing. So I went antiquing and found some really cool things.

Q. Have you found the McLean customers different than the Shirlington customers?

I was wondering the same thing. I’m still trying to figure it out but actually, I’m finding they’re very similar, which is good, because they are responding to the products and the atmosphere that we’ve created here, just like they have in Shirlington. You come into our store and there’s so many good things to smell between the soaps and the candles and then we’re playing the French music. It’s very much a shopping experience when you come in. Of course we want people — if they need a last minute hostess gift to run in and get something — but it really is a place where you can just come and just sort of get lost and just enjoy the atmosphere. We have a lot of young moms [stopping in] who do the [school] pick up and drop off here at the Chesterbrook. They’ve been popping in over the last week as their kids are winding down the school year. Then we have a lot of older clientele which is exactly what we have in Shirlington, getting together for lunch and going shopping and looking for hostess gifts. I’m also asking What sort of things are you [shoppers] looking for? I’ve heard some great feedback from customers on more French linens, stuff like that.

Q. Have you stepped out and gotten anything to eat in McLean?

Well, Mylo’s is two doors down, and I’ve been visiting them quite a bit. The food is so good and they have some really good Greek wine. That’s been fun. South Block, of course, and Call Your Mother [Bagels].

“My dad was in the army and we lived overseas quite a bit when I was a child. One of the first places I remember living was in Morocco. It was kindergarten, but I remember we took French classes, so it must have stuck with me since then,” says Angela Phelps about the start of her lifelong all things France obsession.

Q. Will you have a grand opening of sorts?

We’re trying to coordinate with J. McLaughlin. We’re trying to time it. We’ll probably end up doing it in maybe either late June or early July. We’ll send out something on our email list and post it on our social media.

Q. What’s your favorite thing that you think is unique in the store?

Well, I did find some vintage glassware —  gorgeous old glasses. I love those kind of things. I love having the old stuff [that] I think is unique. I did bring back a line, a French line of soaps and some little little eau de toilettes of Roger & Gallet. It’s a very old line. They’ve done some repackaging and it has a sort of a fresh new look. I have never carried that in Shirlington and I said, Let me try it. It’s actually beautiful and the store smells so good. It’s a nice line that’s had a little bit of a refresh. It’s done well here and I just reordered it and I just ordered it for Shirlington. I love the scent myself.

Q. What are your staffing needs?

I have hired a couple people. They actually reached out to me before I even knew it, or before we even mentioned it. I have some girlfriends and they are moms, and so they told their mom friends. They had college girls coming home for the summer. I’ll probably be looking to hire a couple more part-time folks, especially when these girls leave to go back to college. I would rather have some permanent sales associates.

Q. What’s the most fun part of having this early midlife crisis and then reinventing yourself, basically?

When I first had thoughts of doing this, I sought some advice from different people when I was trying to formulate the business. At least two different people, from a lawyer to someone else said, “Traditionally, retail has not done very well in Shirlington” and “You’re either the smartest person I know or the dumbest.” I thought, Well, you have to get to the point where you’re willing to risk everything to follow your dream and if it doesn’t work, you have to be able to be okay with what the worst case scenario is… Or, it could be the best decision you ever made. That’s the thing I decided. I said, You know what? If this works, it’s going to be the best decision I ever made. I’m so glad I did because it really has been. It is so personally fulfilling. Not only being able to create something beautiful and be able to be my own boss and be able to make my own decisions about your own destiny of your own life. I love that. But then also to create something so beautiful that makes people so happy when they come in. Our mission is to curate beauty and spread kindness. I love that putting more good out into the world is important. The more we can do that, the better. So not only are we meeting people’s needs, if they come in and get gifts, but also they can come in for a shopping experience, they can pick up something for themselves. Then also just to be a part of the community and be able to donate to good causes. Once the school years resume, we can do some fundraising for the local schools. Anything that we can do to sort of put more good out in the world is a good thing.

 “I want to make sure we try to get as much from France as possible,” says Phelps about the merchandise sold in her new Chesterbrook Shopping Center store, Le Village Marché & Boutique.

Gayle Jo Carter is the editor of McLean Today.

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