So how does a former school psychologist end up owning a boutique business? It’s not like the two are exactly related. Let me give you the backstory on how I got here.
One night in 2013, a neighbor and I consumed too much wine and decided that it would be “fun” and “easy” to sell online. I mean, how hard can it be?! We figured it would be a great way to make some extra spending cash for groceries and family trips. We used profits from one sale to fund product for the next sale. It WAS fun! Sales quickly snowballed, and the extra product started to take over our basements and garages. Our husbands became increasingly annoyed with us and insisted that we take the business elsewhere. That, coupled with the fact that people were literally shopping out of our homes, gave us reason to move out.
We ended up renting part of an old house that previously served as a vet clinic. Not exactly glamorous, but we were only looking for a place to ship and store product. This location eventually became our first store. Looking back on it, I’m not entirely sure why anyone shopped us. We had really strange hours because we were both working our professional careers, the space was the size of a postage stamp, and it wasn’t uncommon to have wet dogs running through the store (we shared the same floor as a groomer).
I continued to work in the schools part-time and “play store” in the evenings and on my days off. We never really intended for the business to take on a life of its own, but it did. We eventually outgrew the old vet clinic and moved into our first “official” storefront in a strip mall.
As we got busier and busier, I was starting to lose my mind shuffling two jobs. I have three children, the oldest of whom has special needs. Jack began to have seizures, and we were struggling to get them under control. There were many days spent at the doctor’s office, and I just couldn’t juggle everything. Once I could replace my salary with income from the stores, I resigned from the school system. This freed me up to do something that I had grown to be passionate about and gave me more flexibility to tend to Jack’s needs.
I’ve always been a very compassionate person who cares for those who are less abled - hence my profession. So it was crucial for me to continue to serve individuals with disabilities. Owning a boutique has NEVER been about the money. It’s always been about how I can serve others.
I’ve been able to hire individuals with disabilities who may have struggled to find employment otherwise. I’ve also made it a mission to support several Pay It Forward companies by selling their products in our stores. These companies donate to causes such as sex trafficking, homelessness, hunger, and disabilities.
At the beginning of 2020, the business underwent some ownership changes, and I became the sole owner of all three stores. After much thought and consideration, I decided it was time to rebrand and truly make the stores my own. When looking to rename the stores, I was drawn to my family’s history in the retail industry.
In 1922, my Great-Great-Grandfather, Dr. Elmer Ford, and my Great-Grandfather (Elmer’s son-in-law), Charles Huntley, started a men’s clothing store named Ford & Huntley. Charles managed the business until he passed in 1941. At that time, his wife, Hazel Onalee Huntley (my Great-Grandmother), took over ownership. In 1947, the store was destroyed by fire. Hazel went on to rebuild and operate the business until 1959. She holds the distinction of being the only woman owner, store operator, and buyer. It seemed fitting to honor Hazel, and so the stores were renamed Onalee’s.
I’m incredibly excited about this new chapter in my life. I’m hitting my groove and feeling more confident as a business owner. I genuinely care about my customers. The products I sell are a reflection of me and my standards. I take great pride in carefully selecting quality items that you will come to love.
As for Jack, he’s doing much better. We finally have the seizures under control, but his journey isn’t over. If you ever stop by, you might see him holding the front door for customers, taking walks along the strip mall, or flirting with the staff. He’s my right-hand man.
Thank you for being a part of my journey, for continuing to support my business, and for your friendship.