- The Washington Times - Monday, November 10, 2008

CHICAGO

Short of a coveted ticket for a taping of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” an easier way to surround yourself with the presence of the queen of talk is to go to her official store across from Harpo Studios in what once was a Chicago warehouse district.

With its dim lighting, hardwood floors and urban-loft feel, the Oprah Store is a hybrid souvenir shop and trendy boutique. Since opening in January, it has hosted an average 250 post-Oprah-show shoppers and curious Winfrey fans each day.

Now Harpo is taking that demand and putting it online, launching www.theoprahstore.com. It’s an expansion of a small shopping Web site that carried key chains and T-shirts. The new online store will sell more than 800 items, about 90 percent of what’s available at the Chicago shop.

Fans say going to the Chicago store is a way to feel closer to someone they admire.

Catherine Hinkle, 52, a pharmacist from Overland Park, Kan., recently spent more than $200 after a taping.

“I don’t mind spending money here,” Miss Hinkle says, lifting her two large lime-green shopping bags with “The Oprah Store” written on the side. “I feel like I’m supporting who she is.”

At the 5,500-square-foot brick-and-mortar boutique, fans can buy “O” apparel, umbrellas, coffee mugs, baby bibs and pet collars. Tote bags and notecards are printed with Winfrey quotes such as “Live your own dreams.” Non-branded clothing such as cashmere sweaters and lounge outfits project a certain calm.

Store manager Darcy Rogers says everything was selected with Miss Winfrey’s style and taste in mind.

Customers are “really specific,” Miss Rogers says. “They want something with Oprah’s signature or just the O.”

It’s rare for a talk-show host like Miss Winfrey to have an official store.

Not even Regis Philbin, whose television tenure has lasted decades, can pull that off, says Wendy Liebmann, chief executive officer of WSL Strategic Retail, based in New York.

“She’s the annointer of all things,” Miss Liebmann says. “She, more than anyone else in pop culture, has been able to leverage her celebrity in a way that people consider fairly reasonable. … That gives her the authority to reach out across all these categories.”

One of the few other comparable examples of a celebrity having an official store is Celine Dion, who had a boutique at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas during her five-year run there.

At Miss Winfrey’s store, the real draw for some die-hard fans is “Oprah’s Closet,” a dark wooden armoire filled with clothes and shoes that Miss Winfrey herself once wore or kept in her own closet. Proceeds from that section go to Miss Winfrey’s Angel Network, which contributes to a number of projects.

“Can you imagine wearing that dress and telling people where it’s from?” asks Miss Hinkle, looking at a tiered buttercream evening gown, size 16, for $500.

With those items being sold at prices ranging from $80 to $500, many fans are more likely to stick to key chains or the workout wear, available in a wide range of sizes.

“Her stuff was very normal,” says Lori Nimmo, 43, of Highland, Mich., who tapes Miss Winfrey’s shows all week and watches them on Saturday morning. “Stuff that we would wear. That’s what makes her accessible.”

Associated Press writer Sophia Tareen contributed to this story.

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