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"Spending the past 22 years as a mom raising three boys and an accountant may not seem like the perfect experience to run a women’s clothing store. But Erica Allen-Cassara is the exception. In August of 2017, Erica and her husband Brett became the owners of Bella Lucca, a longtime women’s clothing and accessories store in Slidell. After closing for two months to completely remodel the store, they opened with a new approach: a store for mothers and their daughters to shop together, what Erica now calls 'an affordable clothing store for women of different ages.' Erica said the other thing that sets the store apart is the way she wants to help women “feel good about themselves,” after she went through two tragic situations in life when her first husband died, and one of her children died at birth. 'It’s easy to wonder what qualifies me to help women shop for clothes,' she said. 'Considering the things I went through in my life this store is therapeutic for me as much as someone shopping here.'

She’s not just passionate about all things fashion, Erica genuinely has a love for people, and her magnetic personality makes people want to shop with her again and again. 'I had to find a way to recover from those events and feel better about myself, and Bella Lucca is just what I needed. Now I want to help women feel good too. I want her to look in the mirror and smile,' she said. 'You have no idea how that makes me feel when I can help a woman do that. When I first opened I had a woman hug and thank me. After she left I ran to the back of the store in tears to tell Brett, ‘she hugged me and said she felt good about how she looks!’ It was a real ah-ha moment to know I could be just a small part in the healing process of others.'  'This store is not about a paycheck. It’s become my passion to help other women. We all know that when you look good, you feel good. It’s a big confidence booster' she said.

Erica grew up on the South Shore and after graduating from college with a degree in Secondary Education ended up marrying right away and having three sons. Her husband had a business so she became the accountant before they moved to Slidell in 2004. After her fourth son died as a newborn, she later went to work at NASA as an accountant. Her three sons got older and she was recovering from the first tragedy in life when very unexpectedly in 2011 her husband died. 'The thing that kept me going was that I knew I had to show my boys that you still have to fight for your life and not give up. But up to two years ago I still couldn’t talk about it without breaking down,' she said, wiping away tears. 'Now, this store is the way I’m showing my boys you can go through hard things, but still do anything you really want.'  

Helping her through the tough time was meeting Brett the year after her husband had died. He was an umpire for her sons in baseball and it was her youngest son Zach who kept trying to get them together.  'Zach friended Brett on Facebook and I blew up,' she said with a laugh as Brett listened to the story he had heard a dozen times. 'He texted me for two days and finally convinced me he wasn’t a bad guy.' And now their love story continues as they work side by side. Never married before, Brett said it seemed natural to become the father to three boys.  'The idea of taking on three boys really never bothered me,' he said. 'They’re my boys now and I love them, especially being a part of their sports careers.'  

Also a New Orleans native who went to John Curtis High School and Delgado, he started umpiring full-time to go with working with a beverage distributing company before now finding himself teaming up with his wife to run a women’s clothing store.  'My uncle called me the other day to find out if that is really what I was doing,' he said, laughing. 'But I tell people she is the face of the business and I’m the behind the scenes guy—what I would say is I love watching Erica fulfill her passion and she will get you out of your comfort zone to try new things. But, at the end of the day she shines the best in knowing how to make you feel better about yourself in what you wear.'

Erica said she was a shopper at the original Bella Lucca and knew the store had a reputation for being kind of expensive—upscale. 'But I don’t think you would say that now. We have affordable pricing, great quality merchandise and still carry the popular Tyler candles and Tyler wash. I’m asking people to give us a new look since I think if you come experience the new Bella Lucca you’ll fall in love too.'"

Written by Kevin Chiri, Slidell News Bureau