“I love her honesty.” “Dedicated, hardworking businesswoman.” “Wonderful asset to our community.” “Absolute gem.”
These are just a few of the accolades Lillie Alexander’s customers use to describe owner, Lillie Milanovic, and the shopping experience at this storied boutique. It is easy to see why Lillie Alexander will be celebrating 30 years in the business this fall—and is still going strong.
“When you open a store like this you have high hopes that it’s all going to go well, otherwise you wouldn’t do it,” says Milovanovic, when commenting on her upcoming anniversary. “I’m sure I thought I would be doing it for a long time. I’ve seen a lot of businesses come and go and we’re happy to still be here.”
And it is that winning attitude which has contributed to her success. However Milovanovic is reticent to take all, or even any, of the credit. “I pretty much attribute (my success) to our customers. I feel like the Lake Forest customers have been very loyal and they have all supported me.”
“Even through those growing years in the beginning, I feel like I had the support. So I think that gave me energy to like keep going. I developed my base.”
Part of that base is Laurie Valassis, a loyal customer for the past 30 years. “Lillie Alexander offers a unique selection of clothing, shoes, and accessories. I also love that she has a children’s section. I not only find things for myself, but also have fun shopping for our grandchildren. To have such a special shop locally is a wonderful asset to our community,” Valassis says.
Joanna Marshall is another loyal customer who echoes those sentiments. “It’s my favorite place to shop. It’s really inviting with a low-key atmosphere.” As a working mom, Marshall doesn’t have any time to waste when it comes to shopping. “They have an incredible selection of stylish clothes that aren’t outrageously priced,” Marshall says. She shops there for both herself and her children. “Lillie Alexander is absolutely a gem in Lake Forest with incredible customer service.”
Although it’s obvious that Milovanovic is a natural, it seems that she got into retail almost by accident.
After getting married and while attending school in Milwaukee, Milovanovic was looking for a part-time job. She started working for a family owned store called Mr. Roberts, a retail shop carrying everything from sportswear to dresses. “I always liked clothes,” she says. “I was always into wanting to look nice; I always wanted to dress.” Within six months, she was promoted to manager. “I just felt very comfortable.”
She and her husband moved back to the Chicago area to be closer to family and after having her own children, she worked part time at a variety of stores, including Marshall Fields in Lake Forest, where she was the manager of the Polo department.
“After working in town here for a while, I realized that I know the customer and have the same taste as the customer, and I just developed it from there. I just decided to do my own thing,” Milovanovic says. The store is named after herself and her eldest son, Alexander.
“Even back when I was at Mr. Roberts, he once told me, ‘I think you’re going to have your own store one day.’ Maybe that planted a seed that I could do it.”
For the first ten years of business, Lillie Alexander occupied two different locations in Lake Forest before landing at their current spot on Westminster. It was at that point that she bought the children’s store, Hanson’s, and the two businesses merged, becoming the mother/child concept that it is today.
“Hanson’s was a very established store, having been in business for over 40 years,” Milovanovic says. “It was a big deal when we took over, and we’ve been doing kids and ladies since then.”
Looking back on the past three decades, Milovanovic is beyond grateful for “just being in this town and appreciating my customer and the fact that they like me and they want to come in. I think that’s the most rewarding. I’m here six days a week. So people have gotten used to me and I’ve gotten used to them. And I’m able to pull out things and know what’s going to work for them.”
What is really gratifying for Milovanovic is the fact that, “People do shop local, and they do support the small businesses, which is so important— now more than ever.”
In fact, even during the COVID-19 crisis, Milovanovic still had people calling her. “I changed my windows once a week, and people would call and want to know if they could purchase what was in the window. People were very supportive even during that time.”
Lillie Alexander carries a wide selection of luxury brands for boys and girls, from infants through children’s wear, in addition to many iconic brands that women love to shop today. It’s a one-stop shop for clothing, shoes, and accessories. Milovanovic is proud of the brands she carries and the relationships she has developed with her vendors. The lines she carries include Joie, Vince, Vera Wang, Tracy Reese, Mother Denim, ALC, Ulla Johnson, Alexis, Shoshanna, Lily Pulitzer, Rebecca Taylor, Theory, and more. What better way to shop local and get exactly what you want?
For the celebration of their 30th anniversary in September, Milovanovic shares, “We may do a big fashion show in the store, which is what we did for our 25th. We had an open house all day and people just came in to say hi and congratulations, and that I’d done a great job to make it for 25 years.”
Indeed—and an even greater job to make it for 30. Happy Summer-into-fall clothing at Lillie Alexander anniversary Lillie Alexander. Happy shopping, Lake Forest!