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Women's and children's clothing store to open on Main

Leah Pike's Avant Garde on Main will open Tuesday, March 15, featuring clothing for children from infant to 16 and womens' apparel and jewelry. Kids' lines include Mallory May, Pink Ginger and Switch a Pocket. Some of the women's brands are Rock Revival jeans, Focus 2000, Kavio and Cult of Individuality. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

As the name Avant Garde implies, Leah Pike and daughter Riley, 6, will be adding refreshing new spirit to wardrobes - children's and women's.

Avant Garde on Main will begin welcoming customers Tuesday, March 15.

The former Merry Bee's owner, Mary Beth Anderson, provided the foundation for Leah Pike's venture.

In 2004, the member of Business Professionals of America asked if she might become part of the clothing store crew. Pike's role, at 17, was to steam clothing arrivals.

"It felt like a second home," she said of the warm tutelage she received from Anderson and the staff.

One busy day, Julie Osterman pulled her to the front, tutoring her on using the cash register and other components of retailing.

Leah's acumen as clothier kept her on the front lines from then on. "Mary Beth was amazing. She taught me so much." When Anderson was ready to sell the store, she offered it to Leah, who declined.

"It wasn't the right time," the mother of a pre-schooler at the time said.

"I always had a passion to shop for clothes," she said. So when opportunity knocked a second time, she opened the door, having gained confidence. "I just needed a few more years.

"Now it's mine" - and Riley's who began accompanying her mom at the store at a week old.

Riley, who distributed her business card at a recent Century show-n-tell, is the fashion consultant for Riley's Kids' Closet.

Her switch pocket jeans are the envy of her fellow kindergartners. She posted the opening on her calendar. And informed Mom she wants to represent the store as a Miss Park Rapids contestant

Riley recently proposed receiving half the profits from their venture. When Mom pointed out she'd have to come up with half the money for expenses, she retracted the proposal.

"I couldn't have done this without my family," Leah said of mom Cindy Malm, dad Beaver Malm (who's already planning a second store) and grandparents Carl and Julienne Malm. Her sister, Christine Malm, will be store manager. Friend Nick Weaver "keeps me on budget."

The front counter is built from an 87-year-old Norway (they counted the rings) that stood in the Malm family's front yard.

"I backed into it a few times," Leah said of the tree, its bug-ridden condition prompting its current function.

A children's fashion show at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 13 will be the official debut of the store, which will include model Riley - who goes to market with Mom - and her contemporaries. (RSVP by e-mailing avantgardeonmain

The store's hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

"Shopping should be fun," Leah said. "I like to see what's out there," she said of her avant garde approach to "casual, fun" wardrobes. I may be the gray goose among the white ones..."

"I am forever thankful," she said of Anderson's decision to hire her seven years ago, and provide guidance.

A grand opening is planned later this spring.