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14/08/2017

Rizik’s has been dressing D.C. women

Rizik’s has been dressing D.C. women since Teddy Roosevelt was president. It’s not stopping now

It wouldn’t have been surprising if Rizik’s had closed.

After 109 years in business, much of it from the corner of Connecticut Avenue and L Street in Northwest Washington, the family-owned fashion boutique had run out of family members who wanted to devote their professional lives to hemlines, alterations and the ever-changing moods of first-time brides. A good percentage of the store’s loyal customer base had retired, moved away or died. The Internet had upended the model for independent retail. Rizik’s was not a business with a bright, shining future. It was “challenged,” as one family member diplomatically described it.

But Rizik’s didn’t close. Despite the familial shifts, the cultural upheaval and the dying off, Rizik’s refused to go quietly into history.

Instead, at the end of July 2016, Rizik’s shuttered its doors. Not for good, a sign promised, but for a major renovation — one that dragged on and left more than a few people suspicious that the darkened interior was really just the beginning of the end. “I was not confident at all they’d reopen,” said customer Janet Janjigian.

But then, on April 17, Rizik’s returned. There was no party. No drumroll. The family just turned on the lights and unlocked the doors.

It wasn’t dramatic, but it was remarkable.

The store, originally called Rizik Brothers, opened at F and 15th streets in 1908, a time when life moved more slowly and with greater formality.

The Rizik brothers had come from Lebanon at the turn of the 20th century and established themselves as haberdashers importing lace from Europe. After saving a bit of seed money, they opened their own dress shop and began selling ready-to-wear, which was beginning to blossom in New York.

Rizik’s catered to the well-to-do, to women who had social clout and busy social calendars. The brothers became known for their attention to detail and their customer service. A woman in a pinch could walk into the boutique, buy an evening gown for a formal dinner later that same day, and have it altered in time to make the cocktail hour.

In its heyday, which lasted into the late 1980s, when gross sales were reportedly about $4 million a year, customers from Mamie Eisenhower to journalist Helen Thomas shopped there for professional wardrobes and inaugural ballgowns, wedding dresses and little pick-me-ups.

There was nothing edgy about Rizik’s. It was a store filled with glimmering chandeliers and soft love seats, deep pile carpeting and hushed tones. The day-to-day business was overseen by two second-generation sisters: Miss Renee and Miss Maxine, who even today have a quietly firm demeanor, but one that always allowed for this mantra: The customer is always right.

“If the customer says it’s black and you know it’s navy — it’s black,” says Maxine Rizik Tanous. “You never asked a customer her size. You never asked what she wanted to pay. You asked her what she wanted. And whatever she wanted, you gave it to her. You never let a customer go out disappointed.”

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