Shannon Wells-Morgan has always wanted to do exactly what she’s doing now.
While many childhood ideations of “what I want to be when I grow up” are eventually replaced or abandoned, Wells-Morgan has held steadfast to her entrepreneurial dream since elementary school. The Dallas native has now been in business almost two decades, but her lessons in the world of retail began long before then.
“That was my dream as a little girl,” Wells-Morgan said. “When other kids were playing with Barbies, I was playing store.”
Wells-Morgan turned her childhood dream into a storefront in downtown Van Alstyne — Abby Lane Home Décor & Gifts— named after her daughter and son, respectively. Scattered throughout the space are various clothing items, decorative home goods, artwork and knick-knacks and an array of handmade jewelry — all of which are nestled among a selection of restored antique pieces, ranging from actual furniture to a typewriter to an old high school diploma.
Hobbies and creative outlets that Wells-Morgan adopted in her youth — unbeknownst to her at the time — would eventually become cornerstones of her business and mold the eclectic sort of style she says Abby Lane embodies.
“I started making jewelry in high school to have extra money. I’d sell it to neighbors and friends,” she said. “I also painted furniture when I was in high school because I wanted new bedroom furniture. I had ‘little girl’ looking furniture and my dad said we couldn’t have new furniture. I asked could I paint it and (he agreed). I just got to where I liked out of the norm things.”
As a teenager, Wells-Morgan also immersed herself for the first time in the retail business.
“I got my first retail job when I was 15. When I was 16, I went to work at Neiman Marcus in NorthPark (Center in Dallas) as a part-time job,” she said, “so I’ve always been in retail. (As I got older) I worked a corporate job for awhile during the day and had a part-time retail job at night because I just loved retail. It’s something I’ve always loved; I love meeting people.”
Eventually, Wells-Morgan branched out into the business herself with a booth in a downtown McKinney antique mall.
“That’s when the whole shabby chic thing was the craze, so I started painting furniture again. I started off with half a space that I shared with a friend,” she said. “Not even three months into that we both needed our own space — then it went to two spaces, then three spaces. I just thought to myself ‘why am I paying all this rent in an antique mall? I’m already doing my own thing. I might as well open my own space.’”
This was in the late 80s and early 90s, when Wells-Morgan said antique malls were popular shopping destinations for everyone — a trend she credits some of her initial good fortune to.
“I think we were so successful because the malls I was a part of were the biggest antique malls. That’s where people came to shop,” she said. “It just worked. Timing was right. I got in at a time where it was just the thing.”
Wells-Morgan and her friend-turned-business partner established Abby Lane’s first storefront location in downtown McKinney, across the square from one of the antique malls, in 2000.
“I was the creative one, my friend (had) the financial background, so we found a space and opened the store,” she said of the decision. “It was pretty much a natural transition. Having been in retail so long and already in the customer service industry, I just felt like it was the next step. It wasn’t without some nervousness. At that point it’s all yours and all your responsibility, but the creative part just came naturally.”
Heretofore she had sold nothing but antique and vintage items; however, moving to the new brick and mortar location inspired Wells-Morgan to incorporate a mixture of new with old, and she began adding gift-type items such as candles and jewelry to her inventory.
After a number of years in the McKinney location, her friend/partner decided to leave her stake in the business to raise her three children, and Wells-Morgan, too, decided yet another change was necessary. As sole owner and proprietor, she moved her business to Sherman in 2005 to help care for her ailing mother. That venture, however, lasted just shy of a year.
“When (my mother) got really sick and needed a lot more care, I closed my store for about 10 months,” she said of the Sherman location. “When she passed away, several months later, I was kind of going crazy, and she was angry with me that I closed my store but (at the time) I needed to care for my mom.”
Wells-Morgan said “things just worked out,” and she soon found another storefront for Abby Lane — her current location in downtown Van Alstyne was available for lease. By December 2, 2006, she was re-open for business on East Marshall Street.
“When I moved to this location I really took off more with my jewelry making and (carrying work from) local artisans. I started designing t-shirts and used to do custom rhinestoning,” she said. “I found that Van Alstyne has a pretty big (amount of) tourism so I started gearing more towards what we refer to in retail as cash and carry items. If you’re traveling somewhere you might not pick up an entire outfit but you might pick up a new blouse or t-shirt or something like that, so that’s when I started carrying clothing.”
Wells-Morgan typically peruses estate sales, auctions and hole-in-the-wall places to hunt for inventory, though at this point in her career, she said she has sources and friends that tip her off to events and items she may potentially be interested in. While her inventory has both evolved and expanded, Wells-Morgan’s criteria for choosing the pieces that decorate her store and eventually make it to the register remains the same.
“It just has to be unique and something that speaks to me. I would say that about everything I bring in here,” she said. “It has to be something I would wear or I know someone who would wear that. I have to love it to sell it.”
Of the pieces she either creates or curates, her handmade jewelry and antique items are among the bestsellers. Wells-Morgan believes it’s that unique vibe and unusual mix of old and new that appeal to customers.
“I think that’s what the draw is for my store, is that our style is our own and people like that about us,” she said. “When people come in and say ‘I’d love to own my own store. What’s the key to your success?’ It’s to stay true to yourself and be unique. At least find one thing that’s unique to you that nobody else does. There’s a lot of people (for example) that make jewelry, but they don’t make the jewelry that I make.”
The store’s location in downtown Van Alstyne has lived many lives — a variety store, a dry goods store, a café. Much like the building that houses it, Abby Lane has continued to thrive and reinvent itself. Through nearly 20 years of business, however, Wells-Morgan said she’s had help.
“This is God’s business. I wouldn’t have it if not for Him,” she said. “He has blessed me beyond belief. Sometimes I sit in (the store) and just think ‘this is mine and he gifted me with this and I need to be a good steward of it.’”
Abby Lane Home Décor & Gifts
233 E Marshall Street
Van Alstyne, TX
Tuesday - Friday: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Saturday - 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Closed Sunday and Monday