Aimee McQuilkin: Betty’s Divine owner transforms Missoula’s Hip Strip while growing business
The Hip Strip in downtown Missoula is known for its quirky charm, unique shopping and wonderful food. Since 2005, boutique owner Aimee McQuilkin has made the Hip Strip her business home, contributing to South Higgins’ hip persona.
McQuilkin opened Betty’s Divine when she was 28 years old, oddly enough to spend more time with her children. The boutique offers vintage-inspired clothing, shoes and accessories for men and women, and authentic vintage clothing.
McQuilkin describes her clothes as a snapshot of Northwest styles with an emphasis on vintage, street, skate and surf culture, with a hint of Americana classics.
Her mission back in 2005 and now is to create a fun and warm atmosphere for her customers. From the beautiful hardwood floors and brick walls, to the vast array of unique clothing and accessories, to exceptional personalized customer service, Betty’s Divine delivers.
“It’s all about the experience,” says McQuilkin, who considers herself an “experience architect,” kind of like Julie from the Love Boat, but different.
She and her team (the Shop Girls) are certified Fashion Consultants™ who help their customers find the perfect outfit and accessories – maybe one they weren’t even expecting. “I want customers to walk away with something they love,” she says.
From Employee to Renter to Owner
McQuilkin got her start in retail in 1999 at Rainbow’s End as store manager on West Main Street. The owners of Rainbow’s End also had a store in Flagstaff, Ariz. She went out on her own in 2005 in the storefront that formerly housed Kinko’s on South Higgins, painting the store and redesigning the facade on her own.
With support from the organization now known as MoFi, she purchased the building next door in 2014, investing in downtown Missoula as a property owner. Her story is one of bootstrapping and entrepreneurship in the heart of downtown.
Using Time Wisely
McQuilkin believes as a small business owner you must remain curious and invest in your business acumen. She recently took a 12-week course from Babson College and 10,000 small businesses where she learned the importance of carving out “executive time” into the work week.
“It’s important to break away from the tyranny of everyday retail life to evaluate short-term and long-term goals and to plan for the future,” McQuilkin said. “By taking executive time, I can act on all the cool ideas we come up with to ensure our relevance.
“Because of said time, I diversified my product line to capture a ‘pop culture trend’ by opening Divine Trash Vintage, a vintage department within Betty’s, as well as an online boutique,” she explained.
Customers can shop for vintage items online and sign up for the Vintage Subscription Club, where each month or quarter a “Trash Bag” is sent to them containing a mystery vintage item.
McQuilkin and her partner, Miranda Hickox, personally select the item based on the subscriber’s description. The successful venture now has more than 150 subscribers from across the United States and Canada.
Committed to Community
In addition to running Betty Divine’s, McQuilkin invests time to ensure downtown Missoula remains unique and a fun place to shop, dine and work.
“I love downtown Missoula, and I want to help it keep the cool, fun, community-oriented vibe,” said McQuilkin, who helped start the Hip Strip Society where business owners gather monthly to discuss issues impacting South Higgins, their businesses and customers.
She has served on the Missoula Downtown Association Board of Directors since 2012 and has held several leadership positions there: vice president of advocacy in 2015, board president in 2016, immediate past president in 2017, and vice president of marketing and events this year. She also co-chairs the Festival of Trees Committee with One Eleven’s Paige Livingston.
McQuilkin doesn’t want Missoula to become a “monoculture” where corporate retail chains line the streets making Downtown Missoula look like any other city in the United States. She wants Missoula to remain the amazing, special place it is today.
You can see what she means by just visiting her store at 509 South Higgins or her website at www.bettysdivine.com and www.divinetrashvintage.com. She’s a savvy retailer, open seven days a week, with an incredibly fun and creative staff. Aimee McQuilkin is the heart of Betty’s Divine and the Hip Strip.
Pam Udall became the Downtown Missoula Partnership’s first business development professional in 2017, relocating home to Missoula after nearly 25 years away. Her profiles of Missoula business owners will run twice monthly online at Missoula Current.