MOST RETAILERS celebrated Black Friday last weekend, but for a small struggling shop in South Philly, Black Friday was yesterday.
Valerie and Phil Cuttino were worried sick that their six-month-old plus-size lingerie boutique, Lovely's Lingerie, wouldn't make it through the month of December.
Ever since they'd opened on May 5, foot traffic had been lousy and visits to LovelysLingerie.net, which features provocative undergarments in sizes up to 10X, had only averaged about 200 a day.
Even though it's the only store of its kind in the area, the future of Lovely's Lingerie looked bleak. Especially since this is the make-or-break time of year when retailers traditionally generate the bulk of their revenue and go into the black.
Enter comedian Steve Harvey of the nationally syndicated "Steve Harvey Morning Show" on WDAS-FM, 105.3.
Harvey on Thursday read aloud a desperate letter from Valerie begging for his help in saving the business. Harvey and his co-hosts chatted with Valerie on air about her store and praised her extensive collection of seductive baby-doll nightgowns, custom-made corsets, sheer body stockings and other sexy nightwear.
They joked about how Lovely's Lingerie also sells shoes that go up to size 14, since many heavy women have a larger size foot, according to Valerie. Within minutes, listeners had overloaded the website. Because I was listening on my way to work, I didn't try to log on until I was in the office. It took several tries before LovelysLingerie.net was able to load on my computer.
"They just crashed the website," Valerie told me. "I just got off the phone with Yahoo. It's working now. It's just a lot of traffic."
Valerie is a plus-size woman herself. She's ranged from a size 16 to a 28. The average American woman is size 14, and she'd long dreamed of opening her own lingerie store catering to women with her kind of fit challenges.
Although she'd worked as a manager at the Red Lobster in Cherry Hill for years, Lovely's Lingerie in the Pennsport Mall, at Moyamensing Avenue and Moore Street, was her first attempt at running her own brick-and-mortar store. Her husband, a former manager at the Free Library of Philadelphia, retired recently so he could help out.
"It's been a struggle ever since. We made some mistakes," Valerie said. "We didn't want to lose our business."
For starters, Lovely's Lingerie isn't visible to shoppers outside the mall, so foot traffic has been minimal, which is one of the reasons Valerie wasn't sure how long she could hold on.
"When I wrote that letter [to Harvey] I was in such a way," explained Valerie, who waits tables part-time at Carrabba's in Springfield Mall. "We've invested everything we own, my husband and I."
That investment, finally, is paying off. Thanks to her brief appearance on the "Steve Harvey Morning Show," which has an estimated 7 million listeners nationwide, customers have been stopping by and Web traffic is up. The timing couldn't have been better.
"We went from 200 hits to 10,000 in a matter of minutes," Valerie said, happily. "We're getting a lot of calls and we're getting visitors."
Something else is in the works, but she wouldn't tell me if it involved an appearance on the new "Steve Harvey Show," which premiered on NBC10 earlier this year. But Valerie said it's been enough to save her business.
"We just needed a little push."
On Twitter: @JeniceAmstrong