Love for Sale! Two Lithe Ladies Ply It Soft in Nolita

Jill Bradshaw and Antonia Kojuharova, both 25 years old, opened the I Heart boutique in Nolita last month. They sell women’s clothing, jewelry, dishes, books, paintings and CD’s, and there’s nary a heart logo in sight. “I had a bracelet and it said ‘I love Cosmo,’ which is my cat-‘I’ and then a heart,” said the blond, beautiful Ms. Bradshaw, explaining the name. Cosmo is a small, male white Persian, “but he looks like a girl.” The quieter, darker, just-as-lovely Ms. Kojuharova also has a cat she adores, Mila-hence their company’s name, Cosmila. And though the furry muses aren’t allowed anywhere near the cash register, “they’re a huge part” of the enterprise, said the women, giggling.

At the far end of the large two-story store, an inviting sitting area includes white metal crisscross chairs and a couch with a half-knitted pink and lavender blanket. Pink doors on the two dressing rooms punctuate the back wall. Recent stock includes a short gray playsuit/jumper ($264) by Ms. Bradshaw’s favorite designer, Karen Walker, and a pair of Kelly green Eley Kishimoto shorts with pleated little ties on the side that Ms. Kojuharova envisions wearing out with a black top and heels. “They just look adorable on,” she said. For the less daring, a Spring and Clifton yellow sweater tank ($67) features demure white polka-dotted ribbons that lace up and down the front.

The two young ladies, who used to toil at the Soho and Tribeca Grand hotels (Ms. Bradshaw in marketing, Ms. Kojuharova in promotions and events),metthroughtheirD.J. boyfriends two years ago and bonded quickly. “We’re like best friends-I mean, we’re everything ,” Ms. Bradshaw said. “It’s kind of like all rolled into one. There’s not a lot of people I would be willing to do this with.” Snow White and Rose Red wrote the business plan for I Heart at each other’s apartments-across the street and in Brooklyn, respectively-during regular meetings after work over the course of the past year. They put up more than half of the money themselves; the rest came from a bank. “It wasn’t that difficult,” Ms. Bradshaw said.

Frugal and careful, the women have kept their expenses to a minimum. “We didn’t overdo it in any way,” Ms. Bradshaw said. The rent on the subterranean, two-story space is “a decent amount-but not that bad,” she said. “The ground floor would be twice as much.” Instead of employees, they’ve relied on a lot of friends with a lot of different talents, whom they refer to as their “circle”: a Mafia-likesupport system that helped out with everything from construction to furniture to graphics.

When the store was still in the remodeling stages, Ms. Bradshaw and Ms. Kojuharova would sometimes stay there until 2 in the morning. Not that it’s cramped their social life: “We probably go out more than we should, but we don’t open the store until noon,” they admit, eyes meeting conspiratorially, like twins.

There is no division of labor to speak of. “We’re both interested in all the sides-bookkeeping, everything,” Ms. Bradshaw said. “We’re not pushy; we’re not trying to be, like, mean salespeople.” Ms. Kojuharova lets her partner do more of the talking, but you can lose track of who is speaking, because their voices are so unified and consistent.

Striving for an atmosphere that’s “girly, creative, combining art with fashion and music,” the owners seem to grasp that a soft, artsy, touchy-feely image might be what it takes to stand out in the hard, mean world of Manhattan retail. Beneath the fluffy “Hello, Kitty” concept, I Heart has a precise agenda.

[262 Mott Street, between Houston and Prince streets (212-219-9265); Monday to Saturday, noon to 8 p.m.; Sunday, to 7 p.m.]