The owner of a well-known women’s fashion boutique in Port Alberni is passing the torch to the next generation.
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As Gayle’s Fashions gets ready to celebrate 40 years in business, founder Gayle Stephen-Player has sold the business to her daughter, Rebecca Palmer.
The shop was officially taken over by Palmer at the end April. She explained that the timing was perfect. “just felt right.”
Stephen-Player was raised in Port Alberni and moved to the United States to study fashion design. She spent many years in the U.S., but she always knew she wanted back to Port Alberni.
“I knew that I wanted to own my own business,”Stephen-Player. “I decided to combine my two interests—fashion and fitness.”
Gayle’s Fashions officially opened on Argyle Street in 1983. Stephen-Player was a pioneer in the field of aerobics and designed her own wear. After a few years, the fashion department was eliminated and Stephen-Player began to import ready-to-wear fashions. To make more space for fashions, she added a dancewear supply section and eventually dissolved the fitness studio.
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“I wanted to make running the business a little easier,”Stephen-Player laughed “As it turns out, it was not easier—just different.”
Over the years, the store moved to Fourth Avenue—across from Little Bavaria Restaurant—then to its current location at Kingsway Crossing in the historic harbour area of Port Alberni, where it has remained for the past 10 years.
“We love it here because it has the history, it has the waterfront,”Stephen-Player “It has the vibe.”
Stephen-Player attributes her success to being adaptable.
“Being able to make changes quickly and mould the business to what it is that people want and need,”Stephen-Player “How can we bring to them what is important to them?”
Over the past few years, Palmer has developed a strong online following for Gayle’s Fashions on both FacebookInstagram. An online storeIn 2019, the business was also open. Both of these changes enabled the business to quickly adapt to COVID-19 restrictions. Gayle’s Fashions was still able to sell products when the physical store was closed, and they even started a “take home”Customers could receive a full-sized clothing package to try at home through this program.
“It was really fun,” said Palmer. “They were sending pictures and videos of them trying it on at home.”
Developing strong customer relationships, said Palmer, was another key to the store’s success over the years.
“We’re always trying to maintain the relationships we have with all our customers,” said Palmer. “That way it can go down the family line. It’s become part of people’s lifestyles.”
Stephen-Player claims she has seen “generation after generation”Young dancers frequent the store to purchase their dancewear.
Customers aren’t the only ones growing with the shop. Palmer was born in 1989. She has been with her mother at work since she was two weeks. Palmer’s love for fashion and desire to work in it developed as she grew older.
Following in her mother’s footsteps, Palmer also moved away from home to attend school, studying at Blanche Macdonald Centre in the Lower Mainland. Palmer, like her mother, knew she would return home to Port Alberni.
“I always had this vision of coming back, taking over the family business and raising my family here,” said Palmer.
Palmer now has two sons of her own—four years old and nine months old—who spend time in the shop, much like Palmer did.
And although the store has changed ownership, Stephen-Player isn’t going anywhere soon. She will continue working at the store.
“I do still need my mom’s help day-to-day,” said Palmer. “But I liked the idea of being able to take some of the workload away from her. She’s retiring, but she’s definitely still going to be part of the business. It’s my turn to step up and do the hard work.”
Although the business has changed and adapted over the years, Palmer says one thing won’t change. The store will always be called Gayle’s Fashions, even though there is a new owner.
“I want to carry on the legacy that Gayle started,” said Palmer.
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