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Closing the Trunk

After 33 years in business, it's time to sell the shop and go fishing.

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White-painted wicker and bamboo adorn the place as they would a garden. The season's ready-to-wear separates and ensembles cast a burst of color above green carpet and line white walls like a perimeter of blooms.

These days, loyal customers visit the boutique for dual purposes: to confirm what their sources say is so and to shop.

"Hello, hello! Is it really true?" one woman calls out, entering Madelyn's on a cheerfully sunny afternoon last week. "I couldn't believe it!" she cries, taking a saleswoman's nod as yes.

"Did you really think we would be here forever?" the saleswoman asks.

For 33 years Madelyn's has helped outfit Richmond women head to toe for every social necessity from cotillions to cocktail parties to lunching around town.

Randy Tucker built the shop for his wife, Mary Madelyn, in 1970, as a place prime for business, at a time when such pursuits weren't popular among women, Mary Madelyn says. "It was never a hobby for me," she says. "I always knew I wanted a career."

That career has meant balancing change with tradition, keeping up appearances and offering the kind of quality and service customers expect.

"We're probably the oldest continuously operating, privately owned and managed ready-to-wear in the area," Randy Tucker says.

Being a small independent retailer has been an equally tough and rewarding business, Mary Madelyn Tucker says.

But the time has come for "a whole new generation," she says. It is time for the Tuckers to retire. By midsummer, the couple plans to close shop, rent out the space — they hope to find another small retailer — and "go fishing," Randy Tucker says happily, or else travel to places like New Zealand and Argentina.

For now, Mary Madelyn Tucker is busy fielding questions from customers about what she'll do next and questions from a reporter about Richmond's sense of style.

"You've seen it evolve from the glamour of the runway to what is on the street," she says. In the three decades she's been in business, people's lifestyles have changed. "Casual has developed into a life of its own. That's why we have the Gap," she explains. "Casual used to mean showing up in a plaid skirt and crew-neck sweater."

Time was, glamour went hand in glove with tradition, with function and formality. It required a different kind of fit — one that took ample hands to achieve. Madelyn's used to employ an entire staff of women who routinely made alterations to countless pants, skirts, dresses and gowns.

The Tuckers won't consider selling the business to new owners. "What would I sell?" she asks peremptorily. "The name is mine."

When choosing it, Mary Madelyn Tucker and her mother, Madelyn Robison, considered myriad "cutesy" names before deciding to use the one they share. The logo is in Tucker's mother's handwriting, and all but a loop in the "l" remains on the sign. It was written hundreds of times before the two were able to agree on which one they liked best.

In a back storage room, Mary Madelyn Tucker sits sipping a Diet Coke, reminiscing about fashion and how far Richmond has — and in some ways, hasn't — come. Randy Tucker checks in, offers a smile and testifies that his wife's taste in shoes is "a little New York."

Tucker confesses she has "wild" taste when it comes to footwear. Today she wears khaki-colored flat mules with black piping. They seem perfect with her muted-toned outfit. "When things are pretty, you want to put them in your closet," Tucker says, adding: "But if it's tailored, if it's simple, clean lines override everything."

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