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Best of Red Deer: Persevering against the odds, businesswoman finds success in retail

First the pandemic and now two construction seasons — Melissa Bolduc's Three Broke Sisters clothing store has survived long odds and now has expansion plans in Red Deer.
Melissa Bolduc, owner of Three Broke Sisters retail clothing in Red Deer, has surmounted several challenges since starting operations before the pandemic. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

First the pandemic and then two construction seasons — Melissa Bolduc's Three Broke Sisters independent clothing store has survived long odds and now has expansion plans in Red Deer.

Having worked for seven years in the corporate side of retail, Bolduc said she knew when she first started planning her women's wear store (named after her three daughters) that it wouldn't be a cake walk.

But she also felt there weren't enough choices in the Red Deer area, outside of chain stores, for stylish and fairly affordable brand-name clothing.

Bolduc was looking for pieces that could be worn "from the office to a barbecue, or out for dinner, maybe by just changing a jacket," and she believed other women were too.

She started by ordering clothes that she would like to wear and started an online store in 2020. "A month later, the pandemic hit." she recalled.

Uncertain of how "the new normal" would affect her business, Bolduc found it actually worked in her favour.

With so much sheltering in place happening during 2020 and 2021, Red Deerians had a lot of time to go on social media. Her aggressive marketing campaign through Facebook began attracting customers.

Since some women preferred trying on clothing before buying, and the store's only physical presence was at the outdoor public market, she rented 100 square feet in a friend's pilates studio to create a small storefront in front of the gym.

Word of mouth grew and more customers began dropping in. Soon Bolduc was getting feedback on clothing selection. "It's been trial and error," she  admitted, with a chuckle.

Red Deerians tend to like a casual/dressy look and shy away from fashion extremes. She, therefore, aims to bring in stylish clothing that's attractive to multiple generations and walks the line between high-end metropolitan chic and central Albertan informality. "I'm keeping things as trendy and affordable as possible," said Bolduc.

Dresses, blouses and pants come from recognizable brands, including Vera Moda, Only, Wanakome, C'est Moi and others. Three Broke Sisters also displays and sells locally-made products from female vendors, including jewelry, candles —  even a few self-published books.

Bolduc admitted one challenge has been guessing which trends will be in vogue when you have to order eight months in advance. Another has been central Alberta's unpredictable weather. "I had just brought out the shorts when it snowed," she added with a laugh.

By 2021, Bolduc felt confident enough to open her first real storefront next to the East 40th Pub, where she operated for a couple of years.

Three Broke Sisters then moved to its current location at Unit 3113, 20 Sharpe Ave. in April 2023 — just before construction equipment began tearing up the road directly in front of the new commercial complex.

Expansive 19th Street pavement repairs meant customers were having to detour two to three kilometres in either direction to gain entry. "There were no left turns in or out of here," Bolduc recalled.

"I was scared... I feel very lucky and grateful for the customers that were still stopping in."

She's counting on that loyalty this summer — although the upcoming construction season is not expected to be quite as disruptive from the creation of a new roundabout at 19th Street and 40th Avenue.

The Red Deer store owner, who employs seven part time staffers now, said she's very happy with the location, noting many other women own businesses in that same complex.

Bolduc is next planning to expand her store's offering by add some men's wear items this fall.


Lana Michelin

About the Author: Lana Michelin

Lana Michelin has been a reporter for the Red Deer Advocate since moving to the city in 1991.
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