By Sarah Kuper
The Alabama Retail Association has announced that two Mountain Brook businesses are finalists for the Alabama Retailer of the Year award.
Marguerite’s Conceits, a linens and gift shop in Mountain Brook Village, and Once Upon a Time, a “Southern baby” boutique with locations in Crestline Village and Homewood, are in the running along with a dozen other businesses from all over the state.
The two businesses were nominated and chosen by a panel of judges from the retail community.
Both businesses have been operating locally for more than two decades.
Marguerite Ray, owner of Marguerite’s Conceits, said it isn’t the first time her shop has been nominated but it is certainly a shock to be a finalist.
“I can’t even believe it. I love what I do. It wasn’t a specific goal of mine but it is such an honor and nice to be recognized.”
Ray’s shop has a small footprint on Canterbury Road, but it is filled with what Ray calls “feel good, pampering” merchandise.
Ray carries high-end designers such as Ann Gish, Serena and Lily, Scout and cinda b. Shelves are piled high with soft blankets and silk sheets, and tables display beautiful candles and bath accessories. On standing racks hang comfy and whimsical pajama sets.
But the foundation of Ray’s business comes from her training and experience as an interior designer.
“Linens are the bulk of my business. I have an interior design degree so it’s really fun to work with my customers, figuring out what will work best for them.”
Ray said she has helped customers design bedrooms as far away as South America and the British Virgin Islands.
Marguerite’s Conceits is actually the second linen shop Ray has owned; she and a partner opened Table Matters in Mountain Brook Village in the early 90’s, focusing on beautiful table linens and décor.
Two years later, Ray sold her part of the business to open Marguerite’s Conceits and focus on a different range of luxury products.
Ray believes much of her success comes from keeping her finger on the pulse of what customers are looking for and from offering loyal and friendly service.
Looking toward the future, Ray said she is branching out a little bit to carry more clothes and a wider range of lines.
After selling more than 700 cashmere ponchos last holiday season, Ray is even more keen to find the next big hit as she heads into the fall and winter.
Ray said she is grateful to all her loyal customers and for all the new faces discovering the store since the development of the Grand Bohemian Hotel and Lane Parke complex.
Most of all, Ray feels confident in her business because she has never had doubts or regrets.
“I have never thought to myself, ‘Oh, gross. I have to go to work today’.”
Once Upon a Time
Offering beautiful children’s clothing, accessories, linens and furniture for 20 years, Once Upon a Time has become a staple in the lives of many Over the Mountain parents and children.
Store owner Linda Flaherty opened the Crestline Village store in 1996 focusing on nursery design and special occasion clothing.
The idea stemmed from her love of sewing, especially nursery decor.
“My sisters and I worked on the nursery when our youngest sister had her first baby. It was on the way back from that trip that I had the idea,” Flaherty said.
She began the business, then called Nursery Décor, out of her home, where she would sew custom linens for clients.
A few years later, Flaherty opened the Crestline Village location of what is now Once Upon a Time.
From the beginning, she loved the way the store brought her into families’ lives.
“The customers become our friends. We help these first-time parents prepare for a life they’ve never experienced before.”
Now, a second generation of customers is frequenting Once Upon a Time for their children. Plus, Flaherty said, the quality and the traditional style of merchandise still appeals to an older generation.
“We do cater to grandmas,” she said.
Though the store carries traditional Southern wares, Flaherty is moving forward with modern methods to keep her business successful and approachable for a younger consumer.
“One goal that we have accomplished is to get the website up where people can register online,” she said. “We were overwhelmed in the first two weeks!”
Her next project is to select a software that can help with coordination between the store’s two locations in real time.
She said being chosen as a finalist for the Retailer of the Year award is an honor.
“We are thrilled. We appreciate the recognition from our peers. I have worked hard.”
Both Ray and Flaherty will have to wait until October to find out what level of award they will receive – gold, silver or bronze – but it seems being chosen as finalists has been prize enough.