Amy Manning’s earliest memories are at Gabie’s Boutique, a Newmarket store specializing in dance apparel and other sportswear.
Manning’s grandmother, Gisela — whom she calls Oma — and mother Gabie opened the store in 1979, when Newmarket was a small town of about 15,000.
Manning said her Oma was always travelling to find gymnastics and skating outfits and gear for her mom and aunt, so when her mom graduated from high school, they took the opportunity to fill the niche with a local boutique.
“My sister and I kind of grew up at the store,” Manning recalled. “For both of us, some of our earliest memories were stamping. Before we had computer systems and cash systems and POS systems, we used to write out receipts and I remember stamping the book.”
Today, the mother-daughter partnership continues with Manning as co-owner and store manager.
She never felt forced to carry on the family business.
“It was nice that my mom never pressured me to be in the business. She always said, ‘If you want to be here, I want to have you but if this isn’t your passion that’s OK, too,’” she said.
She joined the business full time in her early 20s and has been there for almost 20 years, forming a partnership with her mom who is still very involved as “she absolutely loves it.”
“Her favourite thing is being out on the floor with customers, so she still makes appearances and it’s always so great,” she said, adding that customers are always excited to find out that there’s actually a Gabie.
Working with her mom is also a treat for Manning.
“She has always allowed me to learn and make mistakes and also to try new things,” she said.
They’ve come a long way from writing out receipts and stamping the books. Over the years, Gabie’s Boutique, which started in a small 300-square-foot basement space on Davis Drive, has moved locations throughout Newmarket numerous times and now has a 3,000-square-foot storefront at 18075 Leslie St.
“Over the years, we have definitely grown. I’m thankful to the community for that and the growth of dance in our community. Just the industry itself has just flourished,” she said.
However, the pandemic dealt them a double blow with not only non-essential retail stores locked down, but dance studios getting shut down as well.
“Even when we could be open, the studios were shut down. So it didn’t really matter that we were open because they weren’t dancing. But with every closed door, literally, they say another one opens,” Manning said.
The door that opened for them was their expansion to a second location in Barrie at 74 Cedar Point Dr.
Manning said when they heard that the owners of a dance and skating supplies store were retiring during the pandemic, they decided to expand.
“We kind of jumped in with both feet and hoped for the best and it’s going really well, thankfully,” she said.
She added the expansion was never something they had planned or even dreamed about, but now she feels like it’s her legacy for the third-generation family business.
“I said to (mom) when we opened Barrie, I said, ‘This feels like mine’,” she said. “It just felt like that next chapter.”
When asked if there’s a fourth-generation on the horizon to take over at Gabie’s Boutique, Manning said her four-year-old son already loves coming into the store, sitting at her desk, and opening the cash register, but she won’t pressure him to join.
“If he would like to be involved and eventually take over, I would absolutely love that but I’m definitely going off the lead of what my mom did with me and allowing him to make his choices. And if he chooses to be here that would be wonderful, but I think definitely that no pressure approach really worked with me to allow me to work and grow and try other things. That’s definitely the way we’ll go with him, but fingers crossed,” she said.
Gabie’s Boutique was featured in a recent CIBC campaign in honour of October’s Small Business Month, highlighting and celebrating local businesses across Canada.