A Patch of “Bleu” by the Sea
This unique Sunset Beach boutique offers style and inspiration.
Chances are you’ve motored past a delightful indigo blue building with white plantation shutters while traveling down Sunset Boulevard North in Sunset Beach. The exterior is decorated with sunflowers and blue polka-dot bows — evident on pillows, wreaths and overflowing baskets of shabby chic bicycles. Outdoor gliders laden with pillows, planters stuffed to the brim with bright flowers and driftwood and picket fences are enough to lure a person to sit awhile sipping a frosty glass of sweet tea.
Bleu, Monica Spence Vogel’s boutique, is filled with artisan jewelry, women’s apparel, scented candles, home decor and garden goods. Stepping inside renews a sense of calm as bliss fills your body. Why, there’s even an entire room devoted to those who love the beach — sweet sayings on embroidered flour sack towels, catchy quotes on signs, marine life dishes and a custom line of men’s bowties and neckties with a global map of Sunset Beach. You’d be hard pressed to miss the wall-mounted long horn cattle adorned with twinkling lights or the wooden chests of drawers overflowing with trinkets, sachets and handmade soaps.
You might say Vogel is smitten with Sunset Beach. About 22 years ago on a quick trip to North Carolina, she and her husband, Jeff, fell in love with the charming town. Taking a leap of faith, the couple purchased a home. Seventeen years later she sold her Illinois store, Ruby Begonia’s, rented a moving van and headed south. In less than a week, she set up shop by renting a storefront on the mainland. With the aid of two girlfriends, she opened Bleu one week later.
Vogel’s background and work experience in store display and visual presentation management for Marshall Fields in Chicago led her to open her Ruby Begonia’s, her first boutique, in Morris, Illinois, prior to the Sunset Beach move. The store, featured in Romantic Homes Magazine in 2010, was filled with vintage wares, garden goods, women’s apparel and a French bedroom set — a mate to one owned by Barbara Streisand.
Once a month during the summer and fall, Vogel travels back to Morris for the 3 French Hens French Country Market, which she co-owns with a fellow shopkeeper. It’s a tradition they started while doing pop-up shops and markets when she owned Ruby Begonia’s. The market affords her an opportunity to discover fabulous one-of-a-kind items for Bleu, as well as enables antique dealers and artisans to share original creations.
Vogel believes presentation is everything. She loves all things vintage, chippy, shabby and primitive. Bleu offers a mix of all of the above, painted furniture and, yes, pieces with a past and a story to tell.
“I think customers love that they never know what they are going to find,” Vogel says. “This week might be beautiful cowhides purchased on a crazy quick trip to the famed Roundtop Antiques market. Next week … who knows?”
She recalls the origins of one of their most original items. “Once, driving through the country, I noticed a vintage pickup truck and left a note on the windshield. The owner contacted me, and we acquired the truck for the store. We’ve even had a handmade wooden rowboat and a ship captain’s trunk.”
With women’s apparel, Vogel limits the number of pieces for a certain style. She believes the clothing should be as special as the woman wearing it.
You can tell Vogel enjoys her customers. Often she’ll advertise a Moonlight Shopping event, collaborating with a few stores in the area. Walking through the door, she’ll hand you a delicious beverage, usually her own concoction. Don’t ask her for the recipe because she’ll tell you “It’s a secret.” On a table in the main room, a feast awaits with a variety of appetizers, savory petite desserts and libations for customers. The goal is to have fun, sip, eat and shop! The first 15 people typically receive free gift bags, with a chance to win a prize basket filled with goods and services.
Vogel feels blessed to have wonderful women employees who are passionate about shoppers and Sunset Beach. They’ve accompanied her on road trips in search of wares for the store and helped with selections.
She’s inspired by strong women who have overcome the storm, lifting each other up during triumphs and tribulations. She’s humbled by the folks who wander through Bleu’s door sharing their stories and talents — the artisan, the author, the mom, the chef, the wanderer.
She supports local organizations such as Lower Cape Fear Hospice, Paws Ability and Brunswick County Sheriffs Charitable Foundation, among others. She loves how Brunswick County hosts its own fundraisers to help create a sense of community
Her favorite quote is, “Through every storm and darkness of night, comes a patch of blue,” or as Monica says “Bleu.” She’s not sure who penned those words, but sees the positive light that shines from them.
On a chalkboard above a window in her store there’s a handwritten saying that goes like this:
“She was a wild child. A real handful and wound like a top. She loved flowers … especially daisies. She focused on being pretty… no, not something to whistle at — pretty kind, pretty smart, pretty strong. Mostly pretty kind.”
Vogel still finds Sunset Beach magical after all these years. When driving across the bridge, she has to pinch herself when she realizes she’s living in paradise … on an island near the ocean.
You’ll find her kind soul most days at Bleu, 720 Sunset Boulevard North in Sunset Beach.
Find the store online at bleuboutique.blogspot.com or give them a call at (910) 579-5628.