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September 12, 2008

I Am the Boss of Me

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The Fashionista
Alice Kim, 38, owner of the Trocadéro boutique, Omaha, NE

MY INSPIRATION: I was living in New York City, with a gig as an accessories director of a fashion magazine, when I turned 37 and started thinking about what I really want. I'd always dreamed of having kids, and I wasn't dating anyone, so I asked myself, Do I want to be the eccentric old aunt in a tiny apartment with a zillion pairs of shoes and five cats? I decided it was time to change it up. I got motivated to leave the whirling buzz of stress and move to a more family-friendly place — Omaha — and open my own boutique.

WHY OMAHA? I've had this strange fascination with Omaha ever since I was a kid. The Wizard of Oz is from there — his hot-air balloon says "State Fair Omaha." Over the years, I've always been drawn to people from Nebraska — they seem very wholesome and genuine, purposeful. Then I stumbled upon a newspaper story about an area in Omaha called the Old Market, with cobblestone streets and galleries in converted warehouses. I learned that there was a need for fashionable boutiques, and decided, that's it — I'm opening my shop there.

HOW I GOT STARTED: I visited Omaha for the first time in May 2007 and found a loft space to lease for my shop: high ceilings, hardwood floors, brick walls. Then I packed up and moved in July. I took out a small-business loan from a local bank and began thinking about what to feature in my boutique. I networked with accessories designers I knew from my magazine days and opened my doors in October 2007. Now I have Gwen Stefani's L.A.M.B. bags, Alexis Bittar's jewelry, Brian Atwood's shoes, along with personal notes from the designers next to the displays.

THE PAYOFF: I'm building up customers, and my life is low-stress here. I feel much closer to realizing my dream, which is to become a mother. Everyone in Omaha knows my story, and they set me up with single guys. Yesterday a man walked into my store and said his friend had sent him to ask me out. I swear to God, when I get married, this town's going to throw me a parade.

THE BUMMER: We had a really bad winter — the papers said it was the coldest one in 25 years - so people weren't venturing out to shop.

BIGGEST SURPRISE: Every spring, about 30,000 investors come to town for the famous shareholders meeting of Warren Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway. You'd think it would be a great time for sales, with a bunch of millionaires hanging around. But they're actually pretty frugal. Maybe that's why they're millionaires!

WORD TO THE WISE: My advice is more philosophical than financial: Figure out what you want in life and design your career around that. My job isn't my life anymore; it doesn't define me like it did in New York City — it's my hobby.

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