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Bag craze

ignites at Ann’s Choice

Created date

November 14th, 2014
“The Bag Ladies” Doris Kalan (left) and Ella Cohen prepare to pack up their clutch purses for sale at Ann’s Choice’s holiday craft sale.
“The Bag Ladies” Doris Kalan (left) and Ella Cohen

People don’t necessarily recognize Ann’s Choice residents Ella Cohen and Doris Kalan by name. But mention “The Bag Ladies” and folks know exactly who you mean.
These industrious entrepreneurs who live at Erickson Living’s retirement community in Bucks County, Pa., create fashionable one-of-a-kind clutch purses that sell almost as quickly as they’re made.
The women will offer scores of their eye-catching purses for sale Nov. 7 and 8 at the community’s annual holiday arts and crafts sale.
Common values
Ella and Doris became friends years ago when they took fitness classes at Abington Hospital. They moved to Ann’s Choice within a few months of one another in 2006, Doris from Abington and Ella from Cheltenham.
Doris didn’t intend to move. Then she accompanied friends to a sales luncheon at Ann’s Choice. The community’s lively atmosphere and the nearness to her old neighborhood appealed to her.
“I didn’t even have to think it through,” she says. “It just felt right.”
After Ella’s husband died, she vowed never to spend another winter alone and isolated in their big house, so her son-in-law suggested she visit Ann’s Choice. She liked what she saw and moved immediately. 
Ella most values the community’s security. She feels safe even when she returns home at 11 p.m., she’s thrilled to no longer cope with snow removal, and she has friends throughout the community.
Ann’s Choice works for working women
Doris started the bag craze when she made some purses for herself—simple clutch bags to hold her keys, ID badge, some tissues, and maybe a lipstick when she went to dinner at campus restaurants.
Her neighbors admired, and coveted, the bags. When Ella expressed similar interest, the idea was hatched.
And after Ella conjured the attention-grabbing name, The Bag Ladies were in business.
Things really took off when an Ann’s Choice neighbor whose late husband had owned a furniture store began giving them free upholstery swatches.
The fabrics are breathtaking and stamp each bag with a unique personality.
Jewelry and large buttons further embellish the bags; most come gratis from neighbors who’ve answered the women’s campus newsletter requests.
The purses require minimal machine work; they’re primarily sewn by hand. Doris sews in her second-bedroom sewing room. Ella sews in her sunny kitchen. Since she doesn’t cook, her kitchen cabinets hold sewing supplies.
The women have never tracked how many purses they’ve made or hours they’ve spent assembling, sewing, and embellishing. One of their neighbors estimates they’ve made 3,000 bags.
“Some days we sew all day,” Ella says, “but the next day it might be a few hours or not at all. It fits in when it fits in.”
However long they work, they never have to prepare dinner. They can choose among four on-site restaurants for their evening meal.
Sew involved
Some 150 clubs and activities vie for their attention at Ann’s Choice, so the women also lead “non-Bag Lady” lives.
Ella plays cards three nights a week, and also spends time contacting and making arrangements for speakers at the Political Interest Group meetings. She also organizes the group’s annual candidates’ night programs. Ann’s Choice is an official precinct poling place and some 500 non-residents vote there. Many also come to candidates’ night.
Doris attends Ann’s Choice Lifelong Learning Academy courses and stays involved with her Abington friends and connections, especially League of Women Voters.
She takes the train into Center City Philadelphia for performances at Arden Theater and concerts by the Philadelphia Orchestra. 
Still, business is never far from either woman’s mind. They aim to sell every purse they bring to the craft show, but not to line their pockets. Aside from seed money for supplies, 100% of their proceeds benefit the Resident Care Fund and the Scholars’ Fund for student servers at Ann’s Choice.
They donated $1,600 from this spring’s crafts show and $23,000 since they launched their business.
The women are crackerjack saleswomen. When they went to a party store to buy white gift bags for the craft sale, they took along three purses to gauge what size bags to buy.
They got the bags they needed, but left their purses behind; the cashier was so taken with them that she bought all three. Cha-ching!

Annual holiday arts and crafts show
The public is invited to the Ann’s Choice annual holiday arts and crafts show Nov. 7 and 8, 10 a.m.–2 p.m., in the multipurpose room of the community’s Keystone Clubhouse.
“The Bag Ladies” will display a large number of their unique and popular clutch purses. The bags sell quickly, so come early.
The show is also an excellent opportunity to admire the extensive and elegant updates throughout the clubhouse.