Bella Meas women’s clothing is a family affair from its name to some of its designer clothing lines.
Bella means beautiful in Italian, and Meas is combination of the first name initials of the owner’s granddaughters: Madison, Ella and Alexis.
Even three popular lines of clothing carried in the Muskogee shop are family names – Cousin Earl, Ivy Jane and Uncle Frank.
Fashion designer Frances Malik writes that Ivy Jane is bright, colorful and quirky, and Uncle Frank is easygoing and generous. For each of us, Cousin Earl is, well, probably a cousin. These designer styles are part of the exclusive brands that Bella Meas stocks regularly.
“The store is full — real full,” says owner Billye Noblin Flinn, adding, she strives to keep it loaded with fashion lines that no one else in the area carries.
In fact, she recalls a time at Market where one buyer “in the face” of a merchandise representative refused to carry a clothing line because someone else already had it.
Flinn operates the same way. Bella Meas once offered Yellow Box shoes, but when other stores started carrying them, she wouldn’t stock the brand “because it wasn’t unique anymore.”
If it seems like Flinn is protective of her clothing selections and perhaps a little territorial, she is.
“If they get it, I will put mine on sale and get it out” the door, she added.
While the retail clothing market is competitive, Flinn supports others in the business, especially when it comes to survival in Muskogee.
“It’s sad for me to see anything close in Muskogee,” she said, referring to the announced departure of Dillards. “We need to support Muskogee no matter who it is.”
Several years ago, clothing store Viva’s shut down in Arrowhead Mall. Bella Meas eventually hired a former owner who “helped me a lot, giving me suggestions.”
Bella Meas opened 12 years ago on East Okmulgee Avenue, after Flinn and her husband had jointly operated Tony’s, a downtown store with women’s clothing on one side and men’s casual, sporting and work clothes on the other.
Over the years, Flinn has maintained a 10-year relationship with the same sales representatives. This creates loyalty, she said, adding, “if I don’t get to Dallas to Market, they come to me.”
Women’s fashion seems to change every season. Yet, Flinn believes what’s out will come back, and what’s in will go away. She’s seen it happen over and over again.
For instance, when leggings first appeared on the runway, customers in Muskogee would say, “I would never wear that.” Now, leggings are hotter than ever.
Recently, Flinn almost returned a rack of long denim jackets “that cover the butt,” thinking they were not going to work. The company reps were astonished, saying many retailers were waiting for shipments that remained tied up on back order.
Flinn reconsidered and kept the jackets. Today, longer black denim jackets are “must haves” for many shoppers.
Evidence of what goes around in style is everywhere at Bella Meas. The “look” today is a fashion update from the 1970s — velvet, big-leg pants, empire waists and single-, double- and triple-stacked bell sleeves. And, denim everything.
Still, Bella Meas keeps a perpetual sale rack on hand for those looking for a bargain.
The family theme is carried out at Bella Meas in many ways. Granddaughter Alexis Cook, a student at Connors College, works occasionally in the store. Her mother, Erin Cook, also helps out. Flinn’s two West Highland White Terrier dogs are regulars, as well, to the delight of shoppers.
Customers are welcome to stop in to chat, while resting in a living room-type setting near the back of the store. “Men wait on their wives in the chairs. It’s like a coffee, but no coffee,” Flinn said.
Tony’s store had a sitting area, as well, and “lots of friends visited there, too,” she said.
Come in and take a seat, she said. Except one chair on Tuesdays probably will be occupied by the dogs.
Andrea Chancellor has reporting and editing experience with news media in Oklahoma City, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. She also did corporate public relations work in Tulsa.