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‘It was an honor’ — OP boutique selling ‘battle gear’ for cancer survivors closes after six years

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More than six years ago, a diagnosis turned into a mission for Charlene Kimmel.

Kimmel was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2016. As she processed and adapted to the diagnosis, she said, she found herself needing certain apparel items during her treatment and recovery that you couldn’t find just anywhere.

Those items — like camisoles and turbans — often came at a high cost online, through hospitals, or as free donations that left wearers without much choice. Kimmel said she realized the local cancer community needed an “in-between” — a place where people who were newly diagnosed could find a supportive environment and apparel at an affordable price.

As a thrift store enthusiast herself, Kimmel had a realization — that in-between could be a thrift store. Armed with the help of a steady stream of donated items from other survivors in the community, she made it her mission to create one.

That idea became Battle Boutique, an Overland Park nonprofit and thrift store offering apparel for cancer patients and survivors. This past weekend, the boutique closed its doors after six years in business — but Kimmel said the mission of the store will live on.

Battle Boutique operated at 11716 W. 95th St.

  • The boutique gained its storefront in the spring of 2018, after Kimmel had gathered donations for roughly a year.
  • Battle Boutique operated out of a space at the Quivira 95 Shops, near Oak Park Mall.
  • The entirely donation-based boutique offered a vast range of items — from head wear like turbans and wigs to camisoles for people recovering from breast cancer surgery.
  • The boutique also offered other more “typical” clothing items like jewelry and pajama sets.
Battle Boutique
Customers shopping at Battle Boutique. Photo courtesy Battle Boutique.

The boutique was about more than clothes

Over the past six years, the boutique received an outpouring of community support, Kimmel said.

Shortly after opening, the retiring owner of a local wig boutique donated roughly $55,000 worth of product to Battle Boutique. Other local businesses and hospitals have followed suit with large donations of several items, including bras and prosthetics.

But the boutique was about more than its inventory. During her time at the store, Kimmel spent lots of time hearing the stories of customers — from those who had just been diagnosed to those who had entered remission. The boutique also hosted a monthly support group for cancer patients and their loved ones.

Being able to reassure customers and share steps of their cancer journey with them, Kimmel said, became the center of Battle Boutique.

“That was probably the biggest part,” she said. “It doesn’t matter the stage of diagnosis — it helps just to know that you have a place to go where someone is going to love on you and care for you, and listen to your story.”

Running Battle Boutique came with some hardships. A community of cancer patients formed through the boutique — and that meant losing some loyal customers to their illness along the way, Kimmel said.

“When people come in, they’re usually going to come in more than once because it’s just such a comfortable environment,” she said. “So you really get to know these cancer patients and their families. And when one passes away, it’s devastating to us — just like losing a friend.”

But at the same time, Kimmel said forming connections through the boutique has been a healing experience for her as a survivor herself. Over the past six years, that has become her favorite part.

“The mission never changed,” she said. “(The mission) was always to provide cancer patients with a community.”

Kimmel wants Battle Boutique to continue on

With the end of Kimmel’s time as Battle Boutique’s owner comes the start of another chapter. This spring, her daughter will give birth to Kimmel’s first grandchild.

Between balancing the arrival of her grandson and her full-time job as a clinical researcher, Kimmel said it felt like time to pass the baton. While the boutique itself is closed for now, she said she’d like to eventually pass it on to new ownership — though nothing is currently set in stone.

Without the storefront, Kimmel said the nonprofit side of Battle Boutique will continue as well. Anyone with items to donate can still contact her, she said, and she’ll hold onto them until the store enters new ownership. (To make donations, contact Kimmel at (913) 961-9795 or charlene@battle.boutique.)

The boutique had a proper send-off this weekend with a “farewell” party for customers, friends and family. It’s a bittersweet turning of the page, but Kimmel said she looks forward to the next chapter — and she feels lucky to have seen Battle Boutique through its six years.

“There’s such a need for it, and it was an honor that I was even able to start it,” she said. “The entire Kansas City metro has loved us so well.”

Want more local business news? Locally owned music school opening this week in downtown Shawnee

About the author

Lucie Krisman
Lucie Krisman

Hi! I’m Lucie Krisman, and I cover local business for the Johnson County Post.

I’m a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, but have been living in Kansas since I moved here to attend KU, where I earned my degree in journalism. Prior to joining the Post, I did work for The Pitch, the Eudora Times, the North Dakota Newspaper Association and KTUL in Tulsa.

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