Dilly D ‘Alley owner Myrtha Bourdeau, right, and longtime employee Joan White at the Lockhart Gardens store on St. Thomas.

ST. THOMAS — After 43 years, Dilly D’ Alley, one of the island’s most popular women’s clothing boutiques, will be closing its doors at the end of this month.

Dilly D’ Alley was first opened by Linda Carlisi in 1977 on Trompeter Gade in downtown Charlotte Amalie, and it was then known for its imprinted T-shirts. The personalized T-shirts were a popular item with cruise directors as well as cruise passengers.

“At that time, we had a lot of ships in, and Linda came out with the idea of putting their names on a T-shirt, so all the cruise directors bought them, and then customers on ships started to buy T-shirts for their grandkids. It was really big,” said current store owner Myrtha Bourdeau, who started working at Dilly D’ Alley right out of high school in 1978.

When another boutique closed in Trompeter Gade, Carlisi took the space for her second store in the alley, featuring women’s clothing and swimsuits. She also opened another boutique on Store Tvaer Gade. Joan White joined the team at the new store and has remained with Dilly D’Alley for 40 years.

Bourdeau worked with Carlisi throughout her college years, earning a degree in marketing. Carlisi trained her, eventually taking her on buying trips to learn the business and meet suppliers. When Carlisi decided she wanted to return to her native New York in 1998, Bourdeau took over. However, although she wanted the name to live on, she didn’t want to handle three stores.

“I wanted a smaller Dilly D’Alley,” she said. “I just wanted to cater more to the locals. Because the store was already known for bringing in quality clothing, I kept it up by incorporating other things in there like hats and jewelry to bring newness to the store. So, this was a little baby Dilly D’ Alley that was born from the bigger Dilly D’ Alley. That’s the way I look at it.”

At that time, Lockhart Gardens Shopping Center, after being damaged in Hurricane Marilyn, turned the space into a shopping mall. When the mall opened, Bourdeau moved into one of the back units and took White with her. They have been a team ever since.

When the front store became available, Bourdeau moved into that space, where she has remained until today. The store continued to grow its reputation for quality clothing; churchgoers in particular patronized it, and she even had customers who came from Tortola and Virgin Gorda.

The big change came gradually, as people shopped more and more online and Dilly D’ Alley’s customer base began to retire or pass away. In addition, Bourdeau saw a lot of local companies opting for uniforms, dwindling the need for business attire. Then hurricanes Irma and Maria hit.

“That’s when I thought I was going to go under,” Bourdeau said. “I revived because of the federal government help with the SBA loan and because people weren’t able to get many things online. Things picked up for us for a little, and I revived.”

In the three-plus years since, business started slowing down again, and now, with the pandemic, things have gotten even worse, she said.

Unlike the period directly after the hurricanes, Bourdeau said that because of the pandemic people became fearful and they were not in the mood to go out and buy clothes. Being a very “church-driven” business, many of her customers were not buying because churches were forced to close and her BVI customers couldn’t travel to St. Thomas, she said.

Bourdeau said she returned from a big buying trip in February and was getting ready for the upcoming holidays, but “we lost Carnival, we lost Easter and we lost Mother’s Day.” Also, the closings caused by pandemic during the spring and summer didn’t help.

Bourdeau questioned whether she personally could hold out as she sure that business will eventually pick up. But she said that because she was probably going to retire in a couple years and that any pandemic aid from the federal government wasn’t going to be enough she realized that it was time to close.

“If SBA was as favorable to the small businesses as they are to the big businesses, I may have been able to stay,” she said. “What I got wasn’t enough to sustain me. With $10,000, three quarters goes to the employees, so how are we going to pay the rent and suppliers? It’s a slap in the face. It didn’t work. So, it was a drastic decision and I had to make it.”

Bourdeau and White have personally called many of their steady customers to let them know the store is closing and to thank them for their support. White, who had just retired, returned to help with the liquidation.

“It’s very hard sometimes,” said White. “I just think about it and I realize, when I see the racks are moving out and the clothes are going, that it’s really closing. I appreciate every one of our customers. Sometimes they just stop by to say hello. Even if they don’t come to shop, they come by to see you, and that makes you feel good. I’m going to really, really miss them after all the years.”

“Personally, I feel kind of saddened because you develop a relationship with the customers over the years,” Bourdeau said. “I would like to say ‘thank you’ because I never thought I would have made it that far. I called all the customers I could to thank them for their service throughout the years, because I couldn’t have made it without them.”