Daughter takes over mom’s dress shop
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Years ago, Manila, Philippines, native Shonie Martin stood in her boutique clothing store and told a Montgomery Advertiser reporter about her hectic work schedule. And how she spends her only day off each week with her 6-year-old daughter, Sheldon.
She recently stood beside her daughter and smiled. It’s Sheldon Martin’s store now.
Shonie Martin started Chantilly on Zelda Road in Montgomery 35 years ago, at a time when there were more cows than streets around the shop. She quickly built a loyal following for her exclusive lines of casual dresses and formal wear, with generations of customers returning year after year. Her daughter has been helping out for “20 years, give or take,” the 26-year-old Sheldon Martin laughed.
She’s been in the dress business even longer. Her mother started the store because she had family in New York and connections in the fashion industry there. That meant access to styles and lines that could make her business special. At one point, it also meant taking along her baby daughter.
“She was born into the business, literally,” Shonie Martin said. “I’d take her to New York. I would push her in the baby carriage down Seventh Avenue, back and forth. A lot of times I’d take her to the garment business, so they knew her as a baby.”
In college Sheldon Martin worked on the other side — as a wholesaler — and formed her own connections in the Atlanta area. But coming back to run her mom’s business was never the plan, she said.
“Growing up here, you’re surrounded by it,” Sheldon Martin said. “You force something on someone and the inner rebel is like, ‘No, you don’t want to do this.’”
That changed after her mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2014. Sheldon Martin came back to run things temporarily and said she “fell in love with everyone,” while gaining a new appreciation for the business and the city as a whole. Last year, with her mother doing better and her parents considering retirement, she decided to take over Chantilly.
She’s seeing a lot of the same faces come through the door now that she did as a kid. Sometimes it’s their children, or their grandchildren.
“Our kids grew up with their kids,” said Shonie Martin. “We’re now doing three generations.”
They still rely on the industry connections they’ve built over the years, and access to fashion lines that are exclusive to them within a certain radius. But Sheldon Martin said the only reason the store continues to be successful is because its loyal core of customers “know us and trust us” to get them in the right outfit.
We’ll straight up tell people it doesn’t look good,” she said. “It’s a small town. If you don’t look good, that reflects poorly on us.”
Her mother may be officially retired now, but she’s helping out at the store again this month ahead of what they expect to be a busy spring. And she’s still handing down advice to her daughter.
“I’ve been telling her, if you’re good to the store, the store will be good to you,” she said. “Because it was good to us for 35 years.”