By Donald Wittkowski
The first thing customers likely will notice when they enter the Bohemian Mama boutique in Ocean City is the tepee in the middle of the store.
Another eye-catching feature is a piece of driftwood that stands around 7 feet tall and is draped with Christmas balls and whimsical ornaments.
Adding to the shop’s eclectic decor are two display tables that were once the doors on an Asian-Indian temple.
“We want people to feel that coming into Bohemian Mama is an experience,” store owner Gina Ozhuthual explained of the diverse interior design. “We want them to come in and feel they are getting something special.”
Located at 741 Asbury Ave., the upscale boutique for women and children will make its debut March 11 during a private, invitation-only party. The grand opening for the public will come later in March, with the date to be announced.
Ozhuthual describes the store as a California-inspired “unique, free-spirited, luxury lifestyle” that promises to complement the emerging, younger vibe of Ocean City’s downtown shopping district.
“I believe Asbury Avenue in the downtown shopping area is having a renaissance of sorts,” she said. “The audience is changing. It is no longer our parents’ Ocean City anymore.”
The 37-year-old Ozhuthual has been closely watching Ocean City’s evolving demographics as an insider. She is a 1997 graduate of Ocean City High School and has been in the title insurance business with North American Title Co. at 12th Street and West Avenue since 1998. She was Gina Passamondi before marrying James Ozhuthual.
“It’s a community I grew up in and have a lot of love for,” she said, noting that her family still lives in town.
She is blending the East Coast with the West Coast in her first Bohemian Mama bricks-and-mortar store. Until now, her Bohemian Mama brand has largely been a California-based online company that ships globally.
Bohemian Mama has also served southern California with a boutique truck that doubles as a retail store on wheels and as a centerpiece for private parties, fundraisers, street fairs and other special events.
Ozhuthual’s job with North American Title has allowed her to fly back and forth between both coasts, giving her an opportunity to take care of her business interests in California while also setting up her new shop in Ocean City.
Ocean City’s leasing prices, affluent market and influx of summer tourists all fit in with her business model, she said.
However, Ozhuthual stressed that the main inspiration for starting her business – her “muse” – is her daughter, Camilla.
“I started Bohemian Mama as a passion project when Camilla was born in 2015,” she said. “She inspired me to do something more meaningful with my career and to have something that I could start from scratch and that I could have for her.”
Bohemian Mama features an array of clothing, accessories, beach wear, jewelry and other gifts for women. There is also a home collection featuring blankets and pillows.
The shop also has children’s clothing, toys and baby sets for age groups ranging from newborns and toddlers to up to 13-year-olds.
The tepee in the middle of the store will give children a play area while their mothers shop. Ozhuthual said the tepee reflects her strategy of having a relaxed and fun atmosphere that customers will find so inviting.
“The tepee has been in my mind from Day One to create a nice and comfortable space for kids,” she said.
As part of its customer service, Bohemian Mama will blend a social setting with the retail operations. For instance, Ozhuthual plans to have one-on-one “style sessions” with her customers to give them fashion advice over a cup of coffee and help them update their wardrobes.
Ozhuthual also wants to make her shop available for private parties for children, baby showers and bridal shows.
Bohemian Mama customers will be able to join a loyalty program that makes use of social media to let them know of discounts and other rewards. A GPS-based mobile app will “ping” their cellphone whenever they are within one mile of the store to welcome them to Ocean City and notify them of any special deals.
“We can totally customize that,” Carolyn Kollman, Bohemian Mama’s manager, said of how the app can be individualized for each customer.
Kollman noted the app is one of the ways that the shop plans to distinguish itself by offering superior customer service.
“It’s all about the experience,” she said. “Being in the retail industry for so many years, you have to separate yourselves with great customer service.”