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October 17, 2012

Ambiance Boutique in Downtown San Luis Obispo

by Molly Schiff
Ambiance Boutique (3)

I’ve always been a small town girl. It’s like that John Mellencamp song… “I was born in a small town, and I can breathe in a small town…” San Luis Obispo is the perfect size – small enough to retain the small-town, but big enough to find plenty of things to do, and (importantly) plenty of places to shop.

I can, and do, shop in a small town. Mellencamp didn’t sing about that aspect of small town living… a large oversight on his part, if you ask me. San Luis Obispo has a wide variety of places to shop – from major brand companies, to discount stores, to quaint local boutiques. While it may not appease my credit card, the variety of stores in downtown San Luis Obispo definitely satisfies any outfit needs (or unnecessary shopping sprees) I may have.

I’m not usually a frequent visitor of many of the clothing boutiques downtown for two reasons: they are either out of my price range or the styles clash with my own. Ambiance boutique is probably the one boutique clothing store in town where I frequent and even make purchases. The store, located at 737 Higuera Street in downtown San Luis Obispo, has a certain unique charm to it that I’ve always found alluring.

“We’ve evolved from a small clothing boutique to a true lifestyle brand,” says store owner Kannyn. ”We are the only multi-level boutique in town, and we carry over 100 different brands – with a strong focus on items manufactured in the USA.”

Ambiance has stood the test of time in a small town filled with countless boutiques competing for both the local and college crowd. The store opened back in 1973 as one of just a few San Luis Obispo women’s clothing options. Ambiance has thrived, and even as competitors laid down roots, it has continued to expand its brand.

“I purchased the store in 2004 after working for the previous owner for almost 4 years while attending Cal Poly.” says Kannyn. “The store’s growth since then has exceeded any expectations I had. We’ve expanded to include a home department, shoe department, intimates, and gifts.”

This expansion just gave me more more reasons to stop in! Ambiance is one of those stores where I enter and immediately see at least five things I must have. Clothes, shoes, purses, books, linens, home decorating, and more await me amidst the brightly colored yet cozy décor. The store is large enough to give customers lots to choose from, but small enough where you can tell someone has taken the time to select each item for sale. The eclectic style of Ambiance gives off a feeling of cohesiveness, suggesting that they thoughtfully target a particular type of customer.

“Our focus is on premium brands and quality merchandise,” says Kannyn. “The Ambiance customer is special, she’s not like everybody else, and she doesn’t want to dress like everyone else. She’s the woman you stop on the sidewalk to compliment.

Ambiance Boutique (4)As a boutique presenting a particular style, Kannyn has built a community around the brand.

“Our clients are amazing… they are our community, our friends, and our support. We have fun working with them and feel honored by the trust they place in us.”

“We have a fiercely loyal customer base, and we strive to be worthy of that by offering premium quality goods.” says Kannyn. “Although we offer a range of pricing from Free People to Nanette Lepore, our primary focus is on carrying brands that we believe in, and who stand behind their products- rather than finding the cheapest deal.”

Ambiance gained the loyalty of its customer base by offering fair prices given the cost of production, which may seem obvious, but this isn’t always the case.

“You may be paying $14 for a top that actually wholesaled at $2,” said Kannyn. “Customers think they’re getting a deal, when in reality they’re paying a 600 percent profit for the shop, not the item they bought! Industry standard is closer to 120 percent (assuming that the item is not sold at a discount).”

Without insider knowledge, consumers often find don’t know the fair price for a product and so fall victim to grossly inflated profit margins.

“Ambiance stands by fair margins for goods, and works with manufacturers who offer fixed pricing to protect buyers.  It’s a smaller margin of profit for us, but a fair price for the product as determined by the manufacturer.”

Ambiance Boutique

With the backing of its loyal customer base, Ambiance has put both feet forward into the community. In addition to hosting events to benefit charities such as the Women’s Shelter, the Make A Wish Foundation and the food bank of SLO, they also carry local jewelry artists and clothing designs.

To top off the “building community” focus of the store, they even launched a book club.

Trusted brands, honest prices, unique selection, charitable causes and a book club? It looks like I have more reasons than I realized to spend a little extra on something I love from Ambiance. John Mellencamp can continue to live and breathe in his small town; I’ll continue to shop in mine.

Ambiance is located at 737 Higuera Street in downtown San Luis Obispo. They have frequent trunk shows, customer appreciation parties, styling sessions, and fantastic sales. To learn more, please visit


The SLO County Locals blog explores some of the best “locals” spots around the county, seeking out the popular businesses, activities, and events that make this place so unique. For more see: SLO County Locals blog.

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