By Zoie Clift, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
Located one block east of Courthouse Square in downtown Magnolia, you’ll find a shop that has been a fashion beacon since 1948: Lois Gean’s.
The store first opened as a small gift shop. Original owner and namesake Lois Gean added clothing to the lineup in the early 60s as women began wearing pant suits. “She carried all the top designers of the day, which was unheard of for a tiny shop in the South, much less in a town in the middle of nowhere,” says Kathy Gean. She and her husband John (Lois’ nephew) took over sales following the proprietor’s passing in 2003.
Gean says the store stands out because it’s unexpected. “I think it’s the element of surprise for many who come in. It’s really like finding a little jewel box you want to search through.”
Lois Gean was on a first name basis with many of the great fashion gurus of her day. She introduced Kathy Gean to legendary designers like Oscar de la Renta and Donna Karan. Those big names of fashion readily recognized the Magnolia shop owner. “(Lois) had her trademark pageboy haircut with bangs, a fashionable outfit no matter where she was headed, and she always wore large glasses, which completed her signature look,” Kathy Gean relates. “She was recognized as quickly on the streets of New York City as inside Dallas Market Center.
“She never tired of seeing pretty clothes and would shop endlessly when at market. She wore out all of her friends, who thought going to market sounded like such fun. She preferred to walk, not taxi, if possible, and was famous for saying ‘just a few more blocks,’ which might mean 20, and her friends were in their heels!”
The store has been featured in ads in such magazines as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and in articles in Southern Living and Women’s Wear Daily. Gean says it’s because the store’s inviting atmosphere has become iconic. “The walls are barn wood that Lois actually had to get clearance to use from the Mayor’s office after her remodel in the 60s.” Within the building, you’ll find a red chandelier that reportedly came from a bordello, a vintage grape arbor light fixture from Italy, a large wrought-iron birdcage that holds jewelry, a Waterford chandelier, and a large pink ottoman that was built inside the room.
After the economic downturn in 2008, Gean (who has worked at the store for 32 years) says she changed the merchandise mix to include a more casual collection. Though it has been increasingly difficult to compete with online shopping, the memorable experience at Lois Gean’s still brings in customers.
“So many times, we’ll hear a group of shoppers say ‘Well that was fun!’ as they walk out," she shares. "This is music to our ears. We pay close attention to personal service, something that shoppers don’t find so much anymore.”
Lois Gean’s has a long-standing following, and many of those customers are still sent boxes of items each season catered to their preferences, with the option of returning what doesn’t work for them. “Of course, we’d much rather see our customers, but we do whatever works best for them,” Kathy Gean adds.
The store also hosts luncheons and special events, and it’s open until eight p.m. on Thursdays for folks who work during the day. There’s also a farmers market in the parking lot on Saturdays.
Keeping true to Lois’s vision, Gean still searches for designer labels, and European collections that show in New York. But she avoids regional markets like Dallas, Atlanta and Los Angeles to lessen the likelihood that those outfits will be in nearby stores. “There are a few collections I have that aren’t in any other stores in Arkansas,” she says. She buys more exclusive collections with specific customers in mind. Among the lines carried by the store: Missoni, Eileen Fisher, Nicole Miller, Frank Lyman, and Aventures des Toille.
“Our customers are our friends, and we treasure them like friends,” Gean shares, also noting other stores around the south Arkansas city. “The downtown square is adorable and still the shopping area of Magnolia, unlike many small towns. We hear compliments on that often, and I think it’s noteworthy.”
Lois Gean’s is located at 109 South Jackson in Magnolia. For more details call 870-234-1250 or visit loisgeans.com.
Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, 501-682-7606
May be used without permission. Credit line is appreciated:
"Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism"