WOMEN ABOUT (down)TOWN: Part 2

November 06, 2014
Elizabeth Steel has made a career out of one of her favorite pastimes: shopping! 
Former staff member of the U.Va. Alumni Association, and current proprietor on the Downtown Mall, Elizabeth Steel (Col ’07) has made the choice to live in Charlottesville again and again. (She tried living elsewhere for two years after graduation, but felt compelled to return.) 

In the summer of 2012, Elizabeth took a personal and professional risk and opened Darling, a consignment boutique on South First Street. Running any business is an exercise in multitasking and hat-wearing, and although it all has to get done, there's still room to play favorites. For example, deciding which items to take for consignment is, in Elizabeth's opinion, "like shopping every day"; add to that, social interactions with customers and opportunities for creative expression and you have a woman who understands the importance of really digging in to the enjoyable parts of entrepreneurship. "There is a lot of autonomy in being a business owner and if you can figure out how to fit that into your skill set, you'll really hit your sweet spot," Elizabeth said. She's quick to supply a caveat: "Easier said than done, but worth it." So, how did she get the idea to open Darling?


"It all comes back to shopping with my mother, or rather, too much of it. I've always loved the experience of walking into a store and walking out feeling happy and a little bit better about life. Maybe you found the perfect dress, a pair of earrings you can't live without, or just generally really liked the place and it put a smile on your face. This all led up to years (and years!) of shopping with my mother and the two of us honing our skills quite nicely. Whenever I asked her if she liked something, she always responded with 'It's just darling.’ I had shopped consignment and consigned, myself, at a few places outside of town and decided that Charlottesville had a void to fill – some place that I would shop, myself. So, I put all those years of shopping experience and knowledge to work and created a place that [is], well, darling." One evening in early November, in between consignment appointments, I caught up with Elizabeth at Darling to get her top recommendations for the U.Va. Woman venturing off-Grounds. Helen McLaughlin: Where does she go if she wants the best burger? Mind-blowing nachos? Something to satisfy her sweet tooth? Elizabeth Steel: I confess that I have never eaten a hamburger (!), but I hear you can't go wrong with Citizen Burger. For my non-hamburger needs, I love the chips and guac at Mono Loco, pad see eaw at Monsoon Siam, and I can't wait to try the new South Street. I think just about all my teeth are sweet and I've got my spots around town: Sweethaus for cupcakes and candy, Arch's for frozen yogurt and Great Harvest for cookies. HM: Complete this sentence: "I'm so glad I discovered __________ in Downtown Charlottesville because __________." ES: I'm so glad I discovered O'Suzannah in Downtown Charlottesville because it makes me want all the things and just puts me in a good mood. I always take at least two laps around the store to make sure I've seen everything, which is darn near impossible. It's just a happy, pretty place to spend a few minutes (and bucks). HM: It's a few weeks 'til finals and you're stressed to the max. Still, self-care is your top priority. What's the most relaxing way you could spend a Saturday morning on the Mall before heading back to Alderman to study? ES: I am going to go against the grain here probably and suggest that you avoid the farmer's market to reduce your stress – I can't think of anything more stressful on a Saturday morning than fighting the crowds for some coffee and some kale. (That said, go to the market early, before the crowds, and support them!) I would take a class at truPilates, which is heaven on earth, then go across to Bluegrass to treat myself for all the Pilates [I] just did, and finally I'd make a lap of my favorite stores on the mall (cough, Darling) to stroll a bit and get some fresh air. Extra Credit HM: What percent Wahoo are you? ES: 100 percent! I graduated from U.Va. in 2007 and even applied early decision, so maybe that makes me, like, 105 percent Wahoo? Thanks for sharing, Elizabeth!

Read about more women business owners in this blog series:

Jacqui Bay Slusher of I Wear Blue Tights Kelly Cox and Merrill Woodriff of bend Yoga

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