By Mike Pound

Globe columnist

So I walked into Chloe's in Webb City and immediately felt out of place, which is a good thing.

I'm probably not supposed to feel at home at Chloe's, because Stephanie Miller didn't open her business with me in mind. She opened her business with people like my 8-year-old daughter, Emma, in mind.

Remember that scene in "Field of Dreams" when Ray Liotta asks Kevin Costner, "Is this heaven?" and Costner says, "No, it's Iowa"?

Well, that's pretty much what happens when a girl between the ages of, say, 3 and 12 walks into Chloe's. Only, of course, Chloe's is not in Iowa. It's in Webb City.

Chloe's is a place for girls, is what I'm saying.

Chloe's is a dress-up place, a makeover place, a party place and a make-believe place. For Stephanie, it's also the place she's always wanted to own. A social worker for more than 20 years, Stephanie a year or two ago found herself out of a job when government funding for the agency she worked for dried up.

So with no job and with a government climate that was making social-work positions harder and harder to find, she figured it was time to try something - as the guys with Monty Python used to say - completely different.

"I've always wanted to have a party and gift shop," she said. "When I asked my family what I should do, they asked me, 'What do you enjoy?'"

What Stephanie enjoys is throwing parties for kids. She said that when her children, Chloe, 16, and Kyle, 11, were young, she was always devising elaborate, fun theme parties for them, so she figured she could take a hobby and turn it into a business. And, so far, it's been working.

Chloe's, obviously named after Stephanie's daughter, has been open since mid-October.

The official name of the business is Chloe's Princess Parties, Events and Gifts, but mostly Chloe's is a party place. Stephanie offers a variety of theme birthday parties that are essentially all-inclusive. Most party packages include invitations and thank-you notes, cake and drinks, goodie bags and, of course, costumes to complement each party theme.

Because we're talking about girls here, makeovers, dress-ups, and beauty and spa treatments are big sellers. But Stephanie also offers scrapbook parties, princess, rock-star and diva parties, and special themes like tropical luau parties. But, hey, I'm a guy, so I'm probably not doing a very good job describing what it is that Stephanie offers. For a better description, complete with photos, you can dial up Chloe's Web page at www.chloesonline.com, or you can call Chloe's at (417) 673-5100 or just stop by the store in the Madison Square Mall at Madison and 17th streets.

I don't really know what it is girls look for in a store. All I know is my daughter has been to Chloe's, and she thinks it's "the coolest place ever."

High praise indeed.

There are some things, as a male parent, that I like about Chloe's. First of all, even if the preteen or "tween" age group is one of Stephanie's prime demographics, I didn't see anything they made me uneasy. You know what I mean? There are certain national chain stores devoted to the preteen market that sell clothes that might not be so age-appropriate, if you know what I mean.

Stephanie knows what I mean.

"Kids still need an opportunity to be kids," she said. "Sometimes they are pushed too hard to grow up."

They don't do that at Chloe's, and I like that.

Another thing I like about Chloe's is the fact that Stephanie just can't stop being a social worker. Positive messages and self-esteem are big things for Stephanie, so without being overbearing, she likes to work those ideas whenever possible into her parties.

But that's probably important only to parents. The important thing to the kids is that Chloe's is fun, it's cool and it's for girls.

Stephanie offers a complete package of party ideas and will also customize a party if that's what you want. In addition to private parties and makeovers, Stephanie offers an open theme party once a month. This month, Stephanie is offering a patriotic party from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, June 23. The party will include dancing, funky hairdos, games and karaoke, and the girls will have a chance to decorate a T-shirt. The cost is $25 per girl, and a $10 deposit is due at the time you make a reservation. For more information, just give Chloe's a call.

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