Best friends go from beach to chic in Ocean City

OCEAN CITY — If enthusiasm is any measure of success, the young women who own Ish Boutique in Ocean City are on their way up the ladder.

Jenny Carven and Christina Pohland, best friends from Stephen Decatur High School, opened the small but selective shop on 34th Street and Coastal Highway three years ago. This year, they’re taking it full time.

The 20-somethings see the resort as the perfect place to start a business, even though they were initially discouraged from taking on the challenge. They decided they would need to be different from the other stores in the resort if they were to succeed.

“When we said we wanted to open our store, people said don’t do it,” said Carven. “We’re in a recession; you’re best friends; you don’t have enough money to do a business. No one wants a store like that in Ocean City. All the negatives.”

Since both women grew up at the beach, they know something about beach fashions and going from a day on the sand to a night on the town with just a change of shoes and accessories.

“We didn’t want to be another Sunsations,” Carven said. “More than anything, it’s the style we’ve picked up. It’s beach to chic.”

“We’re beach girls at heart,” said Pohland.

Growing up, Carven “made a lot of things,” she said. Her background is fashion merchandising and business, and she always dreamed of one day having her own business.

Pohland left the Shore for six years and settled in Manhattan, where she attended the New York School of Interior Design. But she found New York was a different lifestyle than Ocean City.

“I said I would never live here — ever,” Pohland said about Ocean City. “My parents, everyone, said don’t move back. But I was unhappy with the city and the rat race, and was sick of working for people.

“We started throwing around the idea of opening our own store. Next thing you know I’m living here, and we’re working day in and day out.”

The merchandise at Ish is eclectic. In one corner is a display of Chewbeads, brightly colored necklaces and bracelets meant to be fashionable for mothers and chewable for the teething babies they’re holding in their arms.

In another corner, fun costume jewelry and colorful scarves complement flowing dresses, lightweight sweaters and sleeveless tops.

Ish also carries handbags made from “vegan leather,” organic nail polish in surf and beach colors, home decor like oil lanterns and live plants in bamboo boxes, handy cellphone purses and exclusive Ocean City souvenir frames.

Carven and Pohland at first considered running an online retail operation. But then they scored their small but neatly-planned boutique on Coastal Highway.

“It’s nice to see young adults with as much ambition, enthusiasm and confidence in what they’re doing,” said Peck Miller, their landlord and an Ocean City real estate agent. “I did the same thing many, many years ago … They have a great idea and a great concept, and it’s nice to be able to help them.”

The business is an extended family affair. Carven’s husband did the carpentry and her cousin does the accounting. Carven and Pohland quit their second jobs last December to tend to the store full time.

The women are proud they were able to open the store using their own resources, without loans from banks or friends.

“We had to change our lifestyles for a long time,” Pohland said. “We used every penny we had in our bank accounts and from our second jobs just to get this going. But it was so worth it.”

Ish will be open every day starting in May, but right now is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. and on Sunday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

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