Fashion boutique closing
After 30 years, Wendy Graham closing popular women’s store
After 30 years on Douglas Street, one of downtown’s biggest boosters, most durable businesswomen and prolific fundraisers is packing it in.
Wendy Graham is closing Sunday’s Snowflakes women’s fashion boutique, saying it’s time to unwind and enjoy retirement.
“It was a great run and I had a fabulous time, but at my age I don’t need to work so hard,” said Graham, who turned 67 on Oct. 28. “I have three grandsons, a husband and plans for travel, so the plate’s full. It was time.”
Graham plans to keep her small boutique at Mattick’s Farm, but will shutter the downtown store she has operated since 1981 at noon on Christmas Eve.
A wide and loyal base of customers were saddened by the news. On Tuesday afternoon, the store was filled with more than a dozen shoppers, many of whom had been buying from Graham since she opened the doors to the corner boutique at Douglas and Broughton streets.
“I drove by and saw the sign in the window,” said Effie Cook. “It’s very sad. It’s a great store. Great clothes. I’ve shopped here since she started. But good for Wendy. She deserves retirement. She’s worked hard.”
Cheryl d’estrube, a retired nurse who’s been shopping at Snowflakes for 25 years, called Graham’s retirement “a great loss” to the business community. “She had a good eye and knew what people liked and needed,” said d’estrube. “She changed with the times and supported Canadian designers. What a lot of people don’t know is how much she gave back to her community.”
Graham’s fashion shows were a fixture every Christmas season. It’s estimated she raised more than $200,000 alone for CFAX Santa’s Anonymous, a longtime charity that buys gifts for needy kids in the community.
Montreal designer Simon Chang, a close friend of Graham, was a regular visitor for the shows despite his travels in more international circles.
Graham was also active in downtown improvement issues and was on the steering committee to start the new Downtown Victoria Business Association. She also was invited to task force committees set up be several Victoria mayors to improve the downtown.
“Wendy brought the voice of business to the table,” said Margaret Lucas, general manager of the Hotel Rialto. “She understands the whole perspective of a downtown and it’s hard to find people with that long-term vision. She always had time and that will be missed.”
Born in Ottawa and raised in Alberta where her parents operated hotels, Graham moved around the country with her husband Jim as he pursued an education and eventually began a long career in corrections management.
When the Grahams settled in Victoria, Wendy took an administrative job in the ministry of forests. But her heart was always with fashion, something she picked up from her “stylish” mother.
She originally wanted to open in Market Square, but saw that although it had ambience, it lacked traffic. Others told her Government Street was the place to be. But Graham had her eye on the place she would spend three decades.
“This was an old office building and it was closing. I used to sit across the street in the old coffee shop and count people going by. It was amazing. I knew that was where I had to be,” Graham said.
Graham cites quality clothing and customer service for her longevity. Her inventory is both designer and off-the-rack, and all is purchased in Vancouver six months ahead of time.
She’s also been able to stay ahead of the curve on bringing fashions to her customers.
It’s also about paying your bills, being honest and generating goodwill, she said.
“But it’s about passion more than anything,” Graham said.
“A lot of young women starting out ask me how I make the business work,” she said.
“I always say you have to have all those basic things, like knowing what your customers want, knowing who they are, holding on to them with great customer service … but the most important one is you’ve got to have a real passion for what you do. If you don’t, you won’t make it.”