Middlesex County News

Calling It a Career: Cranbury's Iconic Charmed By Claire Up For Sale As Owner Retires

Charmed By Claire's Owner, Claire Morris, stands in front of her iconic shop on North Main Street Wednesday. Morris is retiring and the shop will close around Sept. 1 unless a buyer is found for the successful boutique. Credits: Charles W. Kim

CRANBURY, N.J. - “I'm not talking to you,” the woman said half-jokingly, as she turned and looked sharply at Charmed by Claire Owner Claire Morris before entering the botique on Wednesday.

“I know, there's a lot of people not talking to me,” Morris said, standing outside the successful business she has sheparded for more than a decade. “I'm so sorry, you have no idea how difficult it was.”

Since announcing last week that she will be closing her iconic downtown Main Street store, Morris said she's received a variety of reactions, both similar and different, from her customers.

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With the town-wide rumor mill working overtime, Morris said simply that the time was right for her to retire, and declined to elaborate further.

“It's just a personal decision, it's a family decision, so that's why I'm retiring,” she said. “This was a huge decision for me to make.”

Morris said the business remains successful after some 15 years and is actually still growing each year.

Attributing a large part of her success to the women who work for her, Morris said that they are “the magic” of Charmed by Claire.

“I used to call them my gold girls, but they're made out of platinum, actually,” she said.

Not counting the seasonal help, Morris said that she employs eight women at the store.

Between her customers and her staff, Morris said that making the decision to retire wasn't easy.

“It was the most difficult decision I've ever had to make, because I knew I was affecting women who (have worked) with me for years, so I knew I was affecting their world, as well as my customers, who are now my family and friends,” she said. “I knew they'd be sad.”

Judging by the amount of inventory currently in stock, Morris said that the store will be closing on or about Sept. 1, if it has not been sold by then.

“Charmed by Claire is for sale,” she said. “Nothing would make me happier than for someone to buy it and keep it.”

Morris said that she will not be taking phone calls about buying the business, citing the flurry of activity the closing announcement has created at the store. Interested parties can email her at charmed_by_claire@yahoo.com.

Witth the exception of an email to her clients and a large sign in the window, Morris has not made the news widely known.

She said she did personally go to several fellow shop owners to give them a heads up.

According to Morris, the first few days after word got out were overwhelmingly busy, with lines that stretched down the street to get in to the store and an hour and a half wait to check out.

Two women from Virginia, who usually visit the store twice a year, rushed up over the weekend, after they heard, to make sure they got there in time, she said.

“I think it had everything to do with everybody just wanting to say thank you and hello,” Morris said, of the lines. “And how lucky am I?”

As with her customers, reaction from neighboring business owners has been mixed.

Teddy's Restaurant Manager George Nikitiades said that he's sad to see Claire's close up shop and move out.

“They've been a staple in the community for six plus years and there's a little bit of a shock to see them go,” he said. “They were always good customers and obviously good business people.”

Two doors down from Claire's, Studio 43 Hair Design Owner Juliana Lako said that she couldn't be happier for Morris.

“I'm actually really excited for Claire,” she said. “It sounds like she did so well that she's now ready for the next step of her life. I'm happy that she's going to be able to spend it with her husband.”

Morris was always an encouraging and positive force in the Cranbury business community, according to Lako.

“The things and lessons that I learned from Claire … She could just walk into a room, and when she leaves, you're just so excited about whatever it is you're doing that you want to just be a better person because of who she is,” she said.

Lako said that she is sad to see Morris go because she will miss her, but that she is certain she will do well, wherever she goes.

“She's on to some really great things, I know it,” she said.

Mayor Jay Taylor said that he will feel the repercussions of Morris' decision to call it a career the next time a gift-obligatory occasion rolls around.

“Personally, I'm upset because it was always the go-to spot for Mother's Day and for birthdays,” he said, with a laugh. “It was easy! So she's totally destroying my life by retiring!”

Additionally, Mayor Taylor said that he thinks the announcement caught a lot of people by surprise.

“I don't think everybody knew what she was doing,” he said.

According to Mayor Taylor, predicting the impact of the store's closing on the downtown economy isn't as straightforward as it might seem.

“It certainly is going to impact it, because everybody went to Claire's,” he said. “There was a lot of foot traffic because of Claire's. But it's hard to say, because if an equivalent business goes in, it's not going to have an impact.”

As for what he would like to see move in to the space?

“I'd love to see an old hardware store go back in, like it used to be,” Mayor Taylor said.

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