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The State (Columbia, SC)

Warm Caliente Brings Puerto Rico To Harbison


January 10, 2003
Copyright © 2003 The State (Columbia, SC). All rights reserved. 

Ursula Moore's new store doesn't fit the Harbison Boulevard mold.

Painted in warm golds and oranges and vibrant greens, Caliente stands out in a shopping district filled with big box retailers and mass-market apparel stores.

The colors, Moore said, remind her of Puerto Rico, where her parents first met and where much of her family still lives.

"My parents sent us to Puerto Rico every summer because they wanted us to maintain our heritage," said the 29-year-old Northeast Richland resident. "I've always wanted to live there."

Opening her store on Bower Parkway is Moore's way of sharing some of her culture with Columbia.

Moore describes the store as a Latin boutique. The small store, which opened in September, sells clothing and accessories from designers she fell in love with while shopping in Puerto Rico - Valija Gitana and Hecho a Mano.

The daughter of a Puerto Rican father and Cuban mother, Moore was born in Puerto Rico. Her father serves in the U.S. Army, so her family moved around a lot before settling in Columbia in 1981. She grew up in Columbia and graduated from Richland Northeast High School.

Moore isn't the typical Harbison shop owner. She's a Latina, the mother of a toddler and a first-time business owner.

"She's breaking a mold," said her husband, Jimmy Moore, a Lancaster native.

Opening a store wasn't always on Moore's agenda.

She started her career as a flight attendant. After 9/11, her airline reorganized its flight schedule and wanted to move her to Pennsylvania. Moore said she knew it was time to try something different.

She and her husband had talked about opening a cafe, but after a shopping trip with her mother in Puerto Rico, she got the idea to open a boutique.

Jimmy Moore said as soon as she told him about it, he knew his wife would make it happen.

"She's almost stubbornly persistent. Undeniable is the word," he said. "It's not a question of if she's going to do it or not. It's a question of how well she is going to do something."

Moore said she did market research, scouted out locations and sought advice from family and friends familiar with running a business.

Her uncle in Puerto Rico, who is an attorney, and her husband, who does marketing for the S.C. Hospitality Association, helped her develop a business plan.

She considered start-up funding options such as loans, but instead found a friend, Steve Ware, willing to invest in her idea and eager to see it grow. Her mother also helped her finance the effort.

Ware, who owns the Ware House of Cars used-car dealerships in Columbia, said any time he invests in a business he considers the people running it. "I analyze the person first, because what starts it ends it," he said.

He decided to invest in Caliente foremost because he believes in Moore, whom he described as energetic, honest and loyal.

Plus, he said, she's the kind of person people like the moment they meet her.

"If she can't sell something, it doesn't need to be sold," he said.

Moore considered several locations before settling on the Bower Parkway spot.

The rent around Harbison Boulevard can be twice what stores pay in downtown Columbia, but Moore said the location put her in the middle of the area's biggest shopping district without the hassles of downtown parking.

One drawback has been that Caliente's side of the Columbiana Place shopping center sits fairly empty. The store is flanked by empty spaces waiting for tenants.

Moore hopes for more neighbors to pull shoppers to the store, but doesn't know when or whether that would happen.

In the meantime, Moore has relied on television ads to introduce customers to Caliente's concept, which she admits some might not get from the store's name alone. (The name means hot in Spanish.)

"Latin can mean so many different things for many people," she said, but on television viewers can see for themselves.

Moore said television also lets her reach a broad market, which is her goal. Caliente is not only for Latinas, she said, but for women of all ages and ethnicities who want something unique and in style.

"Latin people are going to shop here anyway once they find out where the clothes are from," she said. "My market is going to be the fashion-forward woman who is going to take a risk."

Moore said at first she was nervous that Columbia might be too conservative for Latin styles.

"I asked myself, 'Are people going to be willing to take that risk with fashion? Are we that conservative that we are not going to take that step?' "

Sales, especially of accessories, have shown that many are willing to try something different.

Moore said one of the reasons she felt Caliente would work is that she remembered how her friends at Richland Northeast High School would react to clothes she'd bought during her summers in Puerto Rico. Inevitably some girlfriend would notice a shirt, a necklace or some other piece of clothing and ask, "Where did you get that?"

Plus, with high visibility of popular Latina musicians such as Shakira, more Latin American styles are in the mainstream.

Moore's goal is to open more locations, possibly along South Carolina's coast.

This month, she and her husband have another project under way, a Cuban restaurant called Cafe Sebi, planned for Garners Ferry Road near the I-77 exit.

It may seem like a lot for a 29-year-old to handle, but Moore said she has a wealth of support from her family and friends. "They are just unconditionally there for me."

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