By Jann Wiswall

There’s nothing more helpful for the fashion challenged among us than finding a clothing shop with a knowledgeable, creative, mature staff that can help you find the perfect dress for a special occasion, the swish top to make your jeans look new or that elegant or fun scarf that turns your clothes into an outfit.

The Fran Charles Shop in Ellicottville is that kind of boutique and it’s now open in Ellicottville’s Village Centre just next door to EVL Cheese.

If the name sounds familiar, it’s because this is the second location for this staple of Bradford, PA, area women shoppers for more than 30 years. You also might remember it from the EVL Fall Festival, where scarves flew off the racks at its booth for several years running.

“We knew we wanted to expand into Ellicottville and were looking for an affordable location. The Village Centre fit the bill,” said owner Susan Godfrey.

The shop caters to missy customers in sizes 2 petite to 16 who wants to dress for her maturity without compromising her flair.

The first thing you’ll notice when you walk in the door is color. The shop is brimming with literally thousands of scarves in every slice of the color wheel. If you’ve never known how to tie a scarf, do not fear – you can learn a few clever techniques from the staff within your first few minutes in the store. How about using a large square scarf as a light-weight shrug? Or looping a long scarf to elongate the torso? Or finding the perfect accent scarf to bring out the color of your eyes?

Then you’ll notice the cool, industrial space with high ceilings, exposed beams, custom display racks and mirrors mounted on skis.

Well, maybe you won’t notice the space, because there’s no way you can take your eyes off the clothes!

There are snug and flowy tops galore, gorgeous dressy dresses, racks of jeans and capris, and, at center stage, a colorful rounder filled with a huge inventory of Focus Waffle Jackets in all styles and sizes from small to extra large, priced at just $70.

The shop is the exclusive Ellicottville supplier of Sno Skins clothing and leggings and also carries designers such as Alex Evenings and Jovani occasion dresses, Damee, Inc. and Skovhuus tops, knitwear and jackets, jeans from JagJeans and French Dressing and many styles of slimming C’est Moi undergarments.

Did we mention jewelry? The wide selection includes statement pieces, matching sets and unique accents.

And, come winter, the shop also will be Ellicottville’s exclusive supplier of Crescent Moon snowshoes for men and women. They’ll be available for sale and for rent.

If you just don’t have a feel for what looks best on you – especially when looking for a formal dress for an upcoming wedding or other special occasion – you’re in luck.

“We know by your body type and coloring what will look great on you,” said clerk Beth Laroche who works in the Ellicottville store and has worked in the Bradford location for more than four years.

“Customers are also invited to make special appointments for individualized service. We pull items together in your sizes ahead of time to have everything ready for you and, with some notice, we can order special sizes or colors to have available when you come in,” Laroche added.

“It’s all about customer service and expertise,” Godfrey added. “Our clerks know our apparel inside and out, so they understand what works and what doesn’t.”

You just don’t get access to that kind of knowledge at the mall.

The Fran Charles Shop also has a booming online business that offers XXL sizes as well as some specialty lines. Take a look ahead of time at francharles.com, then stop in for some serious wardrobe building. And look for special coupons in The Ellicottville Times and online, coming soon.

The shop is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 12-6 p.m. and Sunday from 12-3. Private appointments may be made at your convenience.