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Key North Boutique: Both Fashion and Fairness

Article and photos by Merle Minda

Key North Boutique is on First Avenue NE with its own parking lot!Key North Boutique is a mixture of influences – beautiful influences, actually. Begun 12 years ago in the Hennepin Avenue North East retail district, the store presents a mixture related to the symbiotic relationship of its two owners, who have also been partners for thirty-five years and married for the last four. Katie Greene and Gwen Engelbert could be called Northeast Minneapolis fixtures, but in truth, they have worked hard for their achievements.

Their approach to buying and stocking their store goes far beyond its stunning offerings and affordable pricing. Sustainability is their watchword. What does this mean? It means they only stock products that are “eco-sustainable”, made more of organic, natural fibers – with less dye and often fabrics made by hand. They insist their manufacturers pay fair wages, a “Living Wage”, no matter what country they are made in. They research the factories of their designers and suppliers, to ensure there are no ‘sweat shops’ and no child labor involved and that their other criteria are met. It perhaps takes more time than it should, but “it is well worth it,” says Gwen.

Katie Greene and Gwen Engelbert; owners/proprietors of Key North Boutique

Even with these restrictions that they put on their own buying choices, they feel they have ended up buying better quality clothing overall. Their fashion goals are to be “ageless, talking style and fashion for every age woman," notes Katie.

A gorgeous necklace and matching bracelet by NYC award-winning designer Natalie FrigoAnd it works – their raft of dedicated customers head for Key North first to find what they are looking for. “Our stock turns over every couple of months,” says Katie. “And our 360 cashmeres can be gone in far less time,” she continues.

Stop in and see – from good-looking separates, slacks and sweaters, they also have a wide variety of jeans, jackets, marvelous hats, all sorts of accessories and jewelry to die for! Patterns and designs tend to be unique and not easily found elsewhere due to their savvy buying. They are at market at least six times a year, and many of their manufacturers are from Europe and the Far East as well as the United States.

"Something for everyone," says Katie Greene

Cashmere hats with a mink topping? "Why not," says Gwen Engelbert“Our stock can take you from morning ‘til night, from casual to dressy,” note Katie and Gwen almost in unison. They were early adopters of e-commerce and send out a regular online newsletter with tips, ideas and new designers coming into the fold. “Our customers often have a particular point of view, they want to look classy and maybe a bit different, even a little artsy,” the partners continue. And their customer base has become very loyal, returning season after season to get the Key North “look.” During the year they hold a series of special events, often featuring one or more of their jewelry designers – these are worth watching for. And there are interesting designer salons coming up yet this winter, so stay in touch.

Katie likes this one!In short, it is a partnership that works on so many levels. Katie and Gwen’s son John is a Twin Cities architect who was recently married to Anna, so their family is growing. We, who are both friends and customers, treasure Katie and Gwen’s warmth and friendship, not to mention their sustainable beauty and very, very good taste.

Key North Boutique is located at 515 First Avenue NE in Minneapolis (almost adjacent to the Red Stag Supperclub). And, wonder of wonders in this busy neighborhood, they have their own parking lot! Hours: Monday – Saturday, 10am – 6pm, 612-455-6666, Facebook.

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About Merle Minda

Journalist and free-lance writer Merle Minda writes about travel, business, people profiles and other subjects for a number of national and regional publications, including Delta SKY, Mpls/St. Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Business, Star Tribune, Twin Cities Statement, Minnesota Monthly, and now Mill City Times. She can be reached at or on the web.

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