The Bluetique Cheap Chic boutique along Woodland Avenue began as a way for college students living on a budget to find trendy game-day dresses.
After two years, though, the store has expanded to all types of clothing and other cities, with more stores coming soon.
The store's cheap chic concept came from co-owner and retail director Elizabeth Shipley, who has two daughters, Samantha, 22, and Miranda, 18, and several nieces.
"I'm surrounded by young girls who love clothes, who want things hip but affordable," she said. Prices start at 99 cents and go no higher than $68.99.
The store, which opened in February 2011, started out carrying a lot of denim and "cute game-day dresses," she said.
"Girls dress up for football games. That's the trend," Shipley said. "They're all about tailgating and wearing school colors.
"So we stocked UK blue."
And the name itself — Bluetique — played off both "boutique" and the University of Kentucky's color.
To emphasize the blue theme, artist Casey McKinney painted large, distinctive blue graffiti on the store's two exterior walls.
Its location along Woodland Avenue puts it close to campus and its target audience.
"We love the Woodland Triangle," Shipley said. "It's an old, quirky neighborhood that caters more to our look than a strip mall, and it's near campus.
"Most of our customers walk here, and we really like for students to get to us really easily."
The shop's interior is colorful and comfy. Racks of bright clothes are arranged by color. Customers are offered Ale-8-One from the cooler. In the center of the room is a squishy sofa for parents, grandparents and boyfriends while they wait as their loved ones try on the latest fashions.
And the latest and greatest is key for the store.
Shipley and operations manager Leslie Stoll do all the buying for Bluetique. Every four weeks, they head to New York, Las Vegas or elsewhere to select the latest styles.
"When we go to market, the merchandise is in the store in four to five days," Shipley said. "We have customers who come in three times a week to look for our new arrivals."
Shipley's background is in retail, having been a buyer for eight years for Howie Rackmil's Worlds Apart stores.
Rackmil is one of Shipley's partners in Bluetique. Others are Patterson and Kim DeCamp, and David Zwiebel, a store designer in New York City.
Bluetique quickly expanded beyond denim and game-day dresses to include dresses in a rainbow of stylish colors, skirts, tops, camisoles, jeans, shoes, jewelry, scarves and handbags.
It's "all sorts of merchandise that a girl would need for her closet," Shipley said.
Bluetique's business partners were surprised how quickly the store's concept caught on with not only college girls but young professional women and high school students.
They knew they were "onto a good idea with the potential to expand to other college towns," Shipley said.
So a second Bluetique opened last August in Bowling Green, near Western Kentucky University's campus. Two weeks after that, a third store opened in Oxford, Ohio, near Miami University.
In April, stores are set to open in Harrisonburg, Va., near James Madison University, and Charlottesville, Va., near the University of Virginia. A sixth store is scheduled to open in July in Knoxville, near the University of Tennessee.
The plan is to open four to five stores annually, Shipley said.
She said a lot of research goes into deciding where to open stores, based in part on how many female students are at each university and finding good sites.
"We like older neighborhoods like this Woodland Triangle area that are a little funky and close to campus," co-owner Kim DeCamp said.
Each store is tailored to the college nearby, as McKinney paints large graffiti in the school's colors inside the stores. Each store also carries a large inventory of game-day dresses in the university's colors each fall.
Beyond the physical locations, the boutique launched online sales in February.
"Girls can have Bluetique with them, even when they're not near campus," said Stoll, the operations manager.
All online purchases are shipped from Woodland Avenue. With each, Stoll includes a handwritten note and a pair of pearl earrings.
"Hopefully, that is something we never lose sight of: offering that special customer service and warm feeling," she said.
If you go
Bluetique Cheap Chic
What: A boutique with trendy, affordable clothes for female college students. The most expensive item in the store is $68.99.
Where: 235 Woodland Ave.
Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun.
Learn more: Bluetiquecheapchic.com or (859) 309-1310.
Beverly Fortune: (859) 231-3251. Twitter: @BFortune2010.