Amidst door prizes, raffles, sizzling live performances and celebrity autographs, Ashley Stewart opened its new store at the Forest Park Plaza on May 21 promising to continue to provide great styles and accessories for fashion-forward full-figured women in the area.

The store, known for its reasonably priced fashion apparel, has more than 170 locations nation-wide, adding Forest Park as its latest destination for “great women of style.”

The celebration included a live show emceed by local Gospel radio host Effie Rolfe, an appearance by America’s Next Top Model contestant Toccara, and a performance by singer/songwriter Shirley Murdock.

Lacresha Brown, the store’s manager, said the location in Forest Park was ideal for the store.

“It is a nice area and a wonderful atmosphere,” she said. “It is fashion trends for full-figured women, women of great style and we like to draw attention with mannequins.”

The store has 10 employees and clothes sizes start at size 14, going to size 26.

“You can’t get this from Express or Limited,” Brown said. “We go up a notch higher from Lane Bryant and the quality of our clothes is wonderful.”

The customers at the opening were impressed with the selection and some vowed to become repeat customers.

•  “I love the store,” said Catherine Webb, 47. “I am going to be back so many times.”

•  Webb said there is a need in the community for a store like Ashley Stewart.

•  “[The industry] thinks that because we are a different size, they can raise the price on us,” she said. “Sometimes a cotton blouse is so overpriced”I wish a lot of bigger names would think of us. Even if I were thinner, I still have hips and I have to find clothes that fit.”

•  Webb said other stores for full-figured women, such as Lane Bryant tend to market to a younger demographic or are too conservative.

•  Kimberly Mitchell, of Chicago, agreed.

•  “Others cater to smaller women and there are voluptuous women who need to be catered to, too,” she said. “I normally go farther out in the suburbs or downtown, but the selection just isn’t there.”

•  Murdock, who signed autographs after her performance, said the experience was wonderful.

•  “Everybody comes in different shapes and sizes,” Murdock said. “There is a big market being missed. I remember going into a regular store and trying to get a winter coat [but couldn’t find one]. It is frustrating being overlooked.”