One glance at the mannequins in the window of Modish, a boutique on Water Street in downtown Decorah, and you know there’s something—someone—vibrant at the heart of it. The display’s brilliant colors, bold-but-tactful patterns, and fluid tailoring are known to draw passersby to a standstill. That’s the work of owner and founder Stephanie Henning—herself an effortless advertisement for functional fashion. “I’m the mother of three boys,” she explains, turning graceful in her heeled boots to point out additions to their trademark denim line. “Honestly, this is my only time to be really girly.”

Stephanie has small-business in her blood. “I’ve always loved retail—my mom had a children’s boutique called The Bandbox in Ridgeway, Iowa, growing up,” she says. “I was fortunate that she included me in her business, from visual merchandising to buying, beginning at age 14.”

She went on to study retail management but found her niche once she returned to small-town Decorah to raise her own family. “We should all be so lucky to have a mentor,” she explains, “and for me—besides my mom—that was Margaret Walter,” owner of downtown mainstay women’s boutique, Margaret’s. “I went to work with her with the intention of buying the business, and in 2012 Modish was born.”

These days, the store—relocated in 2015 to its current space—fills a distinctive niche in Decorah’s retailscape, offering a boutique personal-stylist experience at an everyday, affordable price point. “We want not only to help you feel and look good, but to save you time,” Stephanie explains. “We’re here to make it easy, for example, for the customer who calls and says, ‘I’m leaving tomorrow for a business trip, and I need a few things,’ and we know what size she is and deliver a collection to her workplace.”

Modish is also known for carrying stylish staples that still require a yay or nay in a dressing room. “Someone will call and say, ‘I need a white t-shirt, and we’ll set aside five shirts for her to try on when it’s convenient,” Stephanie adds. “Everything we carry is handpicked for our customers. In the world of click-and-deliver, there is something to being able to touch and feel clothes and leave feeling confident.”

In 2018, she expanded the concept to selections for men and boys in an auxiliary storefront, naming it Iver & Jack. “My husband and sons aren’t rugged, outdoorsy types, nor are they suit-and-tie guys,” she explains. “We wanted to bridge that local gap in casual clothing for guys—styles that are moderately trendy, but transcend a wide range of ages. We also offer many items in size small, which is really hard to find in town.”

Among its fellow businesses, Modish aims to complement, not compete directly. “There’s an unwritten rule here: we want to work together,” Stephanie says. “It doesn’t do any good for two stores to carry the same brands—a disservice to customers, really, when there are thousands of options. Businesses here know we need each other to thrive; we are a collective draw.”

But what makes Decorah’s downtown buzz, Stephanie says, is a rare brand of support and belonging. “Honestly, you can live in the city, but you will never have a community rally behind you like you will in a small town,” she concludes. “It sounds cliché, but everyone pulls together for a fund-raiser when someone is really sick, or to do something nice for someone when they need it. It’s a valuable reminder that together, we have all found work we love, in a place we love.”

Stephanie’s Style Pick:

Women’s Weekend Out — Scheduled around Easter, or in conjunction with a production at Luther College, each April. “It’s always so much fun,” she explains. “Everyone downtown is open late Friday night, with a style show on Saturday. It’s one of my favorite weekends to work all year.”

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