Linda Flaherty’s friends and colleagues describe her as a bridge builder and a great listener.
She regularly attends merchant meetings and interacts with other business owners. “Her involvement in the community has made a difference for other people starting out in business,” said Suzan Doidge, executive director of the Mountain Brook Chamber of Commerce.
The business owner also founded and organizes the Crestline Village’s annual Easter Egg Hunt, which Suzan calls “a huge community event.” On April 15, for the seventh consecutive year, Linda, other merchants and volunteers will stuff more than 3,000 plastic eggs with candy, scatter the eggs in a nearby green space and then watch as community children delight in filling their baskets with the multi-colored eggs. To start the event, the Easter Bunny arrives on the Mountain Brook Fire Department ladder truck. The oversized, fluffy white rabbit lingers after the hunt to pose for pictures with the children on a picturesque bench.
“It gives me great joy to see so many of our customers and their young children participating in this event, and I am thankful for the opportunity to personally give back,” says Linda, co-owner of the Once upon a time stores in Mountain Brook and Homewood.
A grandmother of seven, Linda began designing baby linens as a business venture more than a decade before she had her first grandchild.
“I discovered my passion for the retail industry when my sisters and I got together one weekend and created the nursery of my youngest sister’s dreams,” said Linda. “I started out as a little cottage industry doing nursery décor, making custom linens in my home. In less than two years, we had a retail space.”
In November of 2016, the original Once upon a time store in the Crestline Village of Mountain Brook celebrated 20 years in business. Just the month before, Linda and Once upon a time earned the title of Alabama’s Gold Retailer of the Year in the Annual Sales Less Than $1 Million category.
Linda started the business with a partner, but after a year, the two decided to go separate ways as distinct, but complimentary Mountain Brook businesses. She opened her second location in Homewood in 2009. Today, she operates the two Birmingham area stores with her husband, Joe, who assists with the financial reports and taxes. Linda’s two daughters, stay-at-home moms of young children, serve as her sounding board for new ideas for the business.
“I’m a grandmother, so I buy as a grandmother would dress her grandchildren,” said Linda, “but I also listen to my associates and daughters, who offer the young mother’s perspective. We try to maintain a balance. We’re traditional and stay true to our belief in classic, timeless children’s clothing, but also are aware of and stay current with the trends.” The store’s brand focuses on the “Southern baby,” she said.
Linda attributes her stores’ success to paying attention to her customers. “We listen to our customers and get their feedback,” she said. “The customers become our friends. We help first-time parents prepare for a life they’ve never experienced before.”
It is a labor of love. “I love buying for the store,” she said. “I love moving everything around and making it new again.”
Suzan with the Mountain Brook chamber emphasizes, “This is not a hobby for Linda. She has really great ideas. She’s always ready to try new things.”
Some of those “new things” caught the attention of the Retailer of the Year judges. “Once upon a time shows amazing adaptation to reach their target market – mothers and grandmothers – by utilizing video on social media,” the judges said. Weekly videos feature the stores’ associates and are posted and promoted on Facebook and Instagram. In the past year, Once upon a time also launched an online store that includes a baby registry.
“Throughout the years, I have had the privilege of creating nurseries and outfitting precious little ones,” Linda said. What’s next? Expanding Once upon a time’s footprint in the state and the Southeast, the award-winning retailer said.
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Shop the Once upon a time stores at 201 Country Club Park in Mountain Brook and 2900 18th Street South in Homewood. Visit online at onceuponatimebaby.com
Story by Nancy King Dennis