Culture + Style

Bring It Home: Pink Chalet Boutique Owner Debbie Higgins Sells Southern Charm in Orlando

Pink Chalet Boutique Owner Debbie Higgins (Photo: Rafael Tongol)

Debbie Higgins was at a loss. As a native of Savannah, Georgia, she was in the habit of giving gifts in the Southern tradition — thoughtful, personalized gifts presented in fanciful wrapping paper or pretty bags. In her southwest Orlando neighborhood, she could find neither appropriate items to purchase nor a store that understood the importance of presentation. “When I met other people from the south, they felt the same way,” she recalls.

PinkChaletBoutique-002.jpg(Photo: Rafael Tongol)

Higgins filled that niche. In December 2008, she opened The Pink Chalet. The focus: “apparel, accessories and gifts that sparkle.”

The Pink Chalet has since moved to larger, airier quarters. Like the original, the new store is located in Orlando’s Dr. Phillips neighborhood, which draws both locals from adjacent neighborhoods and visitors from the nearby convention and theme park areas.

Enter The Pink Chalet, and you’ll immediately notice a brightness. The space is awash in vivid colors, surely, as the racks tend toward dresses and such in bright hues. In fact, a funky sunniness pervades the entire space. The back wall is hot pink. Sizeable crystal chandeliers twinkle. Costume jewelry smiles in bright tones, as do doodads like purse hooks, beverage containers that screw into the sand, and exchangeable toppers on serving platters. Gift wrapping, which is free, is also festive. “We use zebra paper with a pink bow,” Higgins says. “That’s our signature. Presentation is huge.”

“Savannah informs my personal style,” Higgins admits, smiling at the image of her hometown’s Broughton Street, which is lined with personable shops. “I’m trying to bring southern charm to Orlando.”

That’s not to say The Pink Chalet dismisses Orlando entirely. Quite the contrary. The boutique nurtures its local clientele, offering such personalized service that staffers greet 80 percent of folks who walk in the door by name. And it carries merchandise specific to the area.

“I try to find items that have a story,” explains Higgins, who seeks out the works of local producers.

Witness the infinity bracelets by Jacinda’s Choice. The beaded arm-wrappers are made by a Pink Chalet employee. That’s ultra local, but Higgins can spout names and stories behind several Pink Chalet product lines with Florida ties. Faceplant Dreams facial wipes are made in Tampa. Bourbon and Boweties jewelry hails from Florida State University graduates and employs southern women in manufacturing. Zipaboo baby clothing is “right here in Gotha,” the mother of two young children notes, nodding toward a town 10 minutes away. The Corkcicle folks, who make coolers that fit entire wine bottles and other accessories for spirited beverages “are right in Winter Park.” That’s a quick half hour from The Pink Chalet.

orlando-boutique-pink-chalet-debbie-higgins-southern-charm-01.jpgBeach Bags at Pink Chalet Boutique (Photo: Rafael Tongol)

Even if an item is made in Tahiti, The Pink Chalet can localize it. The store’s team can personalize anything from a Lucite ice bucket to wrist watches on the spot using a special machine. With a little advance notice, they can have nearly any cloth item embroidered. That includes beach bags and decorative pillow cases.

The inventory also includes wardrobe, jewelry and gift items for mothers and daughters from national designers like Michael Stars, Alex and Ani, and Lat & Lo.

Higgins was a sales rep for The Limited after college and then worked in the wholesale end of the clothing business. “I dealt with small business owners and knew I’d want my own place one day,” she says. At one point, “It was the right time of my life.” The Pink Chalet was her answer, and it is still standing, even expanding.

For Higgins, it pays to think pink.