Downtown Pensacola business reflects on 38 years
It was 1984 - a year no one could envision online shopping or cell phones in every pocket, Palafox Street businesses were suffering from a flight to Pensacola’s two bustling suburban malls, interest rates topped 10 percent and a gallon of gas was $1.
“Every two out of three businesses had shut down,” remembers local historian Robin Rowan about downtown Pensacola in that era.
Despite the floundering downtown business scene, it was that year Pensacola sisters Anne Frechette and Peg Woolverton, along with their mom Tish Childs and partner Tina Bond, officially launched their joint businesses, The Market and Mainly Shoes.
Thirty-eight years later, the business, in its third location, is a staple on South Palafox Street.
The venture started innocently enough.
“I worked at Tin Pan Alley,” recalled Frechette about the business which was housed at the location now home to Joe Zarazar’s law firm. “It was so far ahead of its time, carrying roasted coffee beans and French cookware.”
The shop was launched by the late Earl Peyroux, who rose to acclaim via his Cajun cooking shows and cookbooks, and Ginger Gould, who now resides on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. Eventually Woolverton also went to work at the shop where, in addition to cooking items, the sisters introduced a line of jewelry called Katrina.
“We’d sell it out of Tin Pan Alley, we had a trunk show at mother’s house and it was selling like crazy,” Frechette said. Building on the momentum, they added a line of dresses and pants from France embracing the shop’s theme.
LOBSTERS & DRESSES
Eventually Tin Pan Alley closed and Frechette and her Boston-bom husband opened Mainline Lobster Market at 1233 Barrancas Avenue, selling lobster shipped from the northeast. Clams, mussels and local crabs joined the offerings - as well as clothes and jewelry.
Frechette recmited her sister, Woolverton, to add shoes to the offerings.
“Lobsters, clams, mussels in the back, clothes and jewelry in the front,” mused Frechette.
“It worked perfectly,” Childs said. “They bought all of it.”
It was a learning curve for the sisters and their mother.
“I’d never been to market,” laughed Woolverton, whose business is Mainly Shoes. “I didn’t know you bought them in twelves. I had no idea what I was doing!”
After hurricanes and power outages - anathema to a lobster market - the seafood side of the business shut down. But the sisters and mom had found a fashion and friendship niche with Pensacola shoppers.
“We closed the lobster market and just became The Market,” Frechette said.
The name of Woolverton’s business was inspired by Mainly Baskets, which the trio admired while shopping the Atlanta market.
And so the two sisters forever merged their businesses into one dwelling, calling it The Market and Mainly Shoes. A Perdido Key location has been in business for 13 years and a short-lived store selling clothing and shoes geared toward boating was in the early 1990s located at the former Pitt Slip, currently Atlas Oyster House.
For 11 years, The Market and Mainly Shoes ran successfully out of the Barrancas warehouse-style building. But the sisters and their mom always envisioned moving further east.
CYCLES OF CHANGE
“We kind of wanted to be more uptown,” said Frechette.
So when 248 Garden Street came on the market, right next door to the popular Artesana Imports gift store, the trio jumped at the opportunity. Under the direction of architect Hugh Leach, the quaint residence was transformed into a boutique oozing local flavor.
“We opened up the doorways and made it expansive so you could get from one room to the other,” explained Frechette.
Customers often parked and shopped both Arte sana and The Market and Mainly Shoes.
Anne, Peg, Tish and then partner Tina Bond learned the ropes together. They traveled twice a year to markets - first in Atlanta, then Dallas and Los Angeles, before settling on New York.
All the while, Woolverton said, they made and continue to make lifetime memories.
“They (memories) are meeting friends, doing business, great restaurants and seeing so many Broadway shows... we have a whole collection of framed Broadway play bills,” said Woolverton, who when pressed to choose said Cats and Jersey Boys were among the group’s favorites.
A large part of those memories included Tina Bond, who was a founding partner in the business. She died of a massive heart attack after returning from market in 2000. Yet her name is interwoven into the stories amassed over the 16 years she helped build the business.
“When you’re together all the time, you go through a lot of passages together,” Frechette said.
The trio has seen fashions come and go over the years, but maintain allegiance to the beauty of simplicity.
Her daughters credit Childs with inspiring a love for fashion.
“That’s where we got our love for clothes and shoes. Mother’s our total inspiration,” Frechette said.
Childs, who watched her own mother vacuum in spike heels, grew up in an era before “fast fashion” when women’s wardrobes were smaller, yet longer lasting. When her girls were growing up in the Jackie Onassis era, Childs learned to cover their shoes with fabric to match their dresses.
Fashion is in her blood and always on her radar.
“Our clothes could appeal to different generations because they’re classic and simple,” said Childs. “Trends don’t dictate but your eyes are open and you’re just in tune to it wherever you go.”
The styles at their store have evolved with the owners.
“We’ve kind of changed as we’ve aged and grown and our customers have,” Frechette said. “We buy what we love and what we wear. That’s how we’ve always done it - we also listen to our customers.”
After 25 years at their Garden Street location, the trio was ready to become part of the bustling, revitalized retail scene on Palafox Street.
“We wanted to be where things were happening and we didn’t have any walk-in traffic,” Frechette said about the Garden Street location. “It was hip down here after Studer did all that renovation and we happened upon this building, and it was for rent...Studer was the breath of fresh air that we needed. Every week you hear about a new restaurant that opens.”
So, the business became part of the Palafox action when they moved into their new location in early 2017, opening up the space and utilizing the adjacent gazebo for events, including parties honoring Blue Angels spouses.
Walk-in traffic and burgeoning tourism are fueling sales.
“We’ve always had tourism, but it seems like it’s really exploded,” noted Frechette.
“It’s almost year-round,” agreed Woolverton. “We have a lot of repeat customers who come back every year.”
Fashion shows, top-shelf customer service, memory-making trips to market, timeless clothes and the relationships built over 38 years in business fill the trio’s lives. It’s a rhythm that Frechette is happy to maintain.
“We keep saying, ‘Well, how much longer are we going to stay in business?’ We will keep on until something tells us to stop.”
"We’ve kind of changed as we’ve aged and grown and our customers have. We buy what we love and what we wear. That s how we’ve always done it - we also listen to our customers.”