For business owners, it’s all in the family

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Carol Sorgen

At 60, Pamela Berwager has no intention of retiring anytime soon, if ever. So when her longtime interior design career was no longer as enjoyable as it had once been, the native Baltimorean started casting about for her next adventure.

The idea of opening an elegant boutique where she could use her eye for design was appealing, but having no retail experience, she wasn’t convinced that made much sense.

Then one day, her daughter, Gabrielle Paredes, called to say that a storefront in a small enclave of upscale shops in Stevenson Village had become available.

“I dropped what I was doing and ran over there,” said Berwager. Within two weeks she was negotiating a lease, and in September 2012, Berwager “took the leap” into her new career as a boutique owner.

She called her shop Sprezzatura. It’s an archaic Italian word meaning studied nonchalance, or the perfect conduct or performance of something (such as an artistic endeavor) without apparent effort.

“It’s a fun word,” said Berwager, explaining the choice for the shop’s name, and it’s the ambience she wants to convey. “Of course, there were a lot of people who thought it was going to be a spaghetti house,” she said, laughing.

Berwager admits that with no experience herself as a shop owner, there have been challenges along the way.

“It’s been daunting, and we’ve made mistakes — like knowing how much inventory to carry — and we probably still are. But we’re growing in the right direction,” she said.

It probably helps that Paredes, 38, who is now a partner in her mother’s store, has worked for the venerable Saks Fifth Avenue.

Poised for expansion

The business has been growing, and will soon add a second location nearby that will specialize in items for corporate events and weddings.

Berwager credits the shop’s increasing success not only to her own belief that if you want something strongly enough, you can make it happen, but also to her daughter’s effervescent personality, sense of style, energy and computer skills.

She also credits the fact that, as of a few months ago, her husband Brent, “who’s great at everything,” joined the business as well.

A professional fundraiser, Brent, who is also 60, still maintains a consulting business. But he’s now in the store every day, helping out in any way he can.

As with all families, things can get tense sometimes, “but we all have a good sense of humor, which helps,” said Berwager, “and we know that we’re here for each other.”

An eclectic inventory

The jewel box of a shop — just 700 square feet of retail space — reflects the Berwagers’ love of travel, and Pamela’s “thrill of the hunt.”

“I’m excited to see new things and to discover beautiful objects,” said Berwager, adding that she strongly believes in the power of aesthetics and beauty.

“What you surround yourself with doesn’t have to be expensive,” she said. “But if you live with things that make you feel good, you have a sense of hope. That’s the message I try to spread in the store.”

Tapping into the eclecticism of her clientele, whose styles range from traditional to contemporary to bohemian chic, Berwager tries to offer something for everyone — “for her, for him, for baby, and for the home.”

And that goes for the price range, too. “We want to keep the taste level high, but the price range broad,” she explained. “If you want to buy a gift that you’d be proud to give, but you only want to spend $25 or so, you can do that here.” (And if your pocketbook allows, you can also spend more!)

Berwager has also tried — and successfully, it seems — to create a neighborhood gathering place.

Because many of the nearby residents don’t get mail delivery at home, they come to the local post office in the Village every day. Many frequently stop into the shop to say hello to the entire family and to any other friends and neighbors who happen to be passing by, as well.

“We want people to feel that they’re coming by to see old friends,” said Berwager. She believes creating goodwill and a lowkey atmosphere is much better for sales in the long run than a hard sell. With the latter, “you might make a sale, but chances are you won’t make another one,” she said.

Though every now and then Berwager thinks, “Am I out of my mind to do this at my age?” the answer is always, “What else would I be doing?

“I’ve combined my love of travel, love of finding beautiful things, and love of my family,” she added. “It’s a win-win.”