By Sadie Fowler
Approaching her mid-40s, Penny Bolton found herself having to reinvent her career. The move from the corporate world (where she served as Key Account Sales Rep for a movie distributor and Kroger) into the fashion world, is one she fully embraced. The change ultimately led her to a passionate career that’s less like work and more like pleasure.
Bolton is the owner of Penny’s Closet, located in the Georgetown Park at 1602 W. Northfield Blvd., a boutique that specializes in contemporary women’s fashion with a trendy twist.
“I had three years to make the transition,” she said, reflecting on that career change from 15-plus years ago. “I loved my previous job and worked until the bitter end of the three-year transition. During that time, I asked myself, ‘How do I reinvent myself?’ One day I was walking around at the Southern Woman’s Show in Nashville and it just hit me. I loved fashion and had three years to make something work.”
Bolton obtained her business license, started going to market and selling out of her home by appointment only. She rented booth space at shows and events where she sold her product on weekends.
“One of the first events I did was a walking horse show,” she said. “Someone said, ‘Hey, you ought to cater to horse people down the road in Shelbyville. The horse community there embraced me from the start. They trusted me and my taste and supported me and haven’t stopped.”
Some of her best clients from that core base remain loyal, one of whom comes to her from Mississippi twice a year to be styled for the upcoming season. These two trips to Penny’s Closet are the only time this woman shops each year.
Her clients have become her friends, and vice versa.
“There’s so much more to my job than selling clothes,” she said. “Often, I am just a listening ear, or there just to give someone a hug.”
Penny’s Closet provides friendly, low pressure service and offers stylish clothing, jewelry, accessories and even comfortable lounge wear for women as well as men and even babies — though her niché age group is women ages 40 to 70.
Bolton, illustrating the type of relationship she has with clients, shared the story of the day one woman came in “to shop” but didn’t leave with a dress, necklace, scarf or anything tangible. This woman was struggling with coping as a caregiver of aging parents, something Bolton had been through herself.
“It was a very difficult time for her and she just cried,” she said. “I told her, ‘this is a difficult journey but it too shall pass.’ She told me later that day that that was all she needed to hear.”
Since the early days of selling at shows, Bolton has made a name for herself and developed many relationships with countless stories to prove it.
She’s dressed people connected to famous people, such as the family of an American Idol winner during the star’s contract with the show. She’s even sold a unique purse to a contact of hers who worked for Madonna.
“One of my customers that lives here in Murfreesboro works for different entertainers and she was on tour with Madonna in London,” Bolton said. “She called me looking for a purse for Madonna’s birthday, which was the following day. Madonna wanted a particular purse made by My Flat In London. They couldn’t find it at any of the stores in London, believe it or not. My friend remembered I carried the line and called me.”
Bolton no longer had that particular purse, but she scrambled to help her friend anyway. After all, it was Madonna! Bolton called the designer in New York and amazingly tracked down the purse just barely in time to have it overnighted to London.
Bolton prides herself in being ahead of the game. She admits leaning toward trends more than many fashionistas her age, although says there should always be a place reserved in everyone’s closet for classics.
Again, known for her foresight, Bolton once wrote a regular column in a magazine for retailers sharing her wisdom on upcoming fashion trends. She never worried about possibly giving competitors an edge on what she’d learned by hard work and studies at market, where the experts reveal fashion six months ahead of any given time.
“The way I see it, you never really dim your own light by sharing with others,” she said. “I was once young and if I can give back, give advice or even mentor other women why wouldn’t I? I never worried about competition … That stuff just works itself out.”
A giving spirit, Bolton is a native of Smithville but has called Murfreesboro home for the majority of her adult life (she lives with her husband, beloved two cats and dog). She’s passionate about the charities she serves; there have been many over the years.
She believes in choosing wisely when it comes to investing one’s time.
“As a retailer, a woman, an individual, you have to choose wisely and not spread yourself too thin,” she said. “When that happens, it’s no benefit to anyone.”
Bolton is widely known for her connection to Bras for a Cause, which she formed years ago. Bras were decorated and hung from the ceiling of Penny’s Closet and other fundraisers sprouted from her original idea were held with proceeds going toward the specific mission to find a cure for cancer, all types of cancer.
Bras for a Cause became so big that Bolton could no longer manage it alone but during its tenure it became the largest community feeder to the number one rated cancer research facility, the Cancer Research Institute in New York.
“People really rallied behind it locally,” she said. “I just thought if I could be even minutely helpful in finding a cure for cancer that would be a pretty darn good calling.
“Out of all my accomplishments, getting the call that we were the largest community funder has been my best accomplishment of all … This community has been so supportive of me and my dreams. I can’t think of anything I don’t love about Murfreesboro.”
When the rare opportunity for down time comes her way, Bolton enjoys going out to dinner with friends, travel, attending concerts and working out. She once competed in body building competitions and was a personal trainer. Above all else, her favorite past-time is shopping, with her favorite stores being TJ Maxx and Marshalls.
“I was there last night until they closed,” she laughed. “I don’t shop for clothes much because I wear things from Penny’s Closet, but I love shopping for decorative things and dog clothes. I love those stores because it’s like a treasure hunt sifting through everything.”
What’s next? She’s currently passionate about helping with fundraisers benefitting Murfreesboro’s Baylor Bramble, a young Murfreesboro man who suffered a severe brain injury while playing football two years ago. Bolton is grateful God put the humble family in her path and looks forward to raising funds for Baylor’s upcoming rehab (he was recently approved for evaluation at Shirley Ryan in Chicago).
Also, the Paws & Pearls Pearls event, which she’s again chairing alongside new co-chair Susan Wilson, is April 7.
Christmas season is around the corner and Penny’s Closet customers are bound to find a gift for anyone on their shopping list. And when they leave, the gift will be perfectly hand-wrapped.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a $10 gift or $100,” she said. “We hand tie every bow on every gift. it costs us thousands of dollars to provide this service, but it’s all part of the presentation. It’s really important to me that the package is pretty. We call it Penny’s Closet Pretty.”