Lesley Jane Leaves an Extraordinary Legacy on the Bricks
On November 1, Zionsville resident Lesley Hunt announced that after nearly two decades in retail, she will be retiring and closing her destination women’s apparel store, Lesley Jane, which is located on the historical brick street in downtown Zionsville, Indiana.
I spoke with Hunt about the journey she’s experienced as a retailer in a small Midwestern town after an uber successful career in advertising and marketing at a national level, the challenges and highlights of her retail career and what the next season of her life will look like once she flips the sign to “closed” and locks the door to her renowned and beloved store for the last time.
Hunt shared countless examples of fond memories and stories of her customers, employees and fellow business owners alike. She expressed how endearing all of these relationships and friendships are to her. Hunt shared some of her own thoughts on what she will be taking away from her time as a small business owner on Main Street.
Embarking on a Brand-New Professional Adventure
In 2002, Hunt purchased Captain Logan that was housed in the same space as Lesley Jane and sold furniture, décor and specialty gift items.
“I bought Captain Logan [in 2002] and walked in [as the new owner] right after Thanksgiving,” Hunt recalled. “I was ready to leave marketing and advertising at that point in my career. I was lucky enough to have some employees that carried over, and we became best friends. There were, of course, some bumps along the way, I have to admit, but I learned quickly.”
In 2008, one of the nation’s greatest economic downturns hit and shook small businesses throughout the country down to their cores. Businesses were forced to take a hard look at their business models and adapt to how Americans were spending their money in those years and what was void in terms of services and goods in their respective markets. Around this period of time, Hunt’s business savvy and keen instinct had her looking beyond antique restoration and used furniture and she began experimenting with her merchandise.
“I started sneaking in women’s clothing a little bit here and there,” Hunt said. “It was getting really hard to find [quality] antiques, restore them, and find used furniture, repaint the pieces, and I had discovered that I liked clothing better. So, I thought, ‘What the heck, I’ll just do that.’”
Contributing to the Local Business Community
“It [the rebranding] happened in January of 2009,” Hunt said. “The chains that hung from my dropped ceiling and functioned as my clothing racks were installed, the merchandise came in and the sign went up. I had changed the name and incorporated to Lesley Jane.”
The town of Zionsville had been a destination location for antiques and art galleries for many years, and post-recession, the town began to see more growth in the surrounding area that brought in more families. The needs and wants of locals began to reflect in the local business community’s offerings. Wanting to be connected with her fellow merchants and in involved with decisions that impacted the business owners, Hunt joined the chamber of commerce shortly after launching Lesley Jane, and she was elected to the chamber’s board of directors.
“I got involved with the chamber and its board because I thought in order to make things happen for my business and the other small businesses over here, I had to get involved in some way,” Hunt shared. “I stayed on that board for what seems like forever, and that was a really exciting period because there were a lot of creative things that we did to generate traffic, not just from locals but we reached over into Hamilton County and the surrounding communities. We worked to really expand the annual Street Dance and got food trucks involved, and the other big one was expanding Christmas in the Village from a one-day event to a month of themed events that benefit the business community and create experiences for the residents and guests.”
Building a Renowned Legacy
Over the years, Lesley Jane has become the destination for women’s clothing, gift items and accessories. It hasn’t just been about the unique and expressive styles that Hunt has carried as much as it’s been her standard of service and the customer experience in its entirety.
Anyone with a teenage daughter in the immediate area knows that the place to go for a unique and classy prom dress has been Lesley Jane. Hunt’s belief that every young lady should feel beautiful and comfortable in her own skin earned her a reputation of having not only an exquisite selection of gowns, but she also instituted a strict one-dress-style-per-school policy in part to eliminate the “Who wore it better?” competition. From a retail perspective, this policy created a sense of urgency to come in and reserve or purchase a specific dress while preserving the uniqueness of the young women’s prom gown experience.
“I didn’t ever want any of my customers put into a position where somebody was making a [dress] comparison, so that’s how that policy started,” Hunt stated. “For me, making it an enjoyable experience for my customers has always been first and foremost. I’ve made it my personal mission to make every woman feel like they are beautiful inside and out. The other element of selling those prom dresses and event gowns was that I wanted every one of those girls and ladies to feel beautiful and confident, regardless of if they were a size 2 or a size 16. It’s been my goal that they were going to look amazing in that dress, not only in their own eyes but in everybody else’s eyes as well.”
Closing One Book and Beginning Another
Like her fellow business owners, Hunt had to work around the COVID-19 pandemic in order to survive the global crisis. The very modality of brick-and-mortar business had to be reimagined. Hunt had to quickly switch gears and offer an online component to her retail business. She personally delivered packages to her customers during the shutdown and worked through all of the COVID-19 restrictions that were mandated by the state during that time. And in the end, Hunt feels she came out of it even more appreciative of being able to offer the “normal” in-person customer experience without restrictions.
Hunt added, “You’re not able to experience that kind of customer engagement in a mall environment, big store or online.”
Although the pandemic is not at the top of reasons for her decision to retire, it did remind Hunt of how precious time with family is, as is having the time and freedom to travel to and explore new things. It was a bittersweet decision to close the book on this season of her life and start a new one that includes traveling, time with her son and volunteering.
“It was pretty much a New Year’s decision,” Hunt said. “I just decided that I needed to focus on some other things in my life. When you’re a business owner, you have to be willing to give up a lot. I’ve got a son that lives in Atlanta that I don’t get to see very often. So, I’ve made the decision that it is time for me to move on. I really want this to be a great Christmas for everybody, so I’m not going to just slap a ‘closed for business’ sign up on the door and ‘peace out.’ We are going to celebrate this season.”
Hunt will host several special events at her store and sales throughout the months of November and December before taking a brief hiatus after the holiday and into the new year.
“After the first of the year, I will sell everything that’s left, including the displays, art on the walls, but I will keep the website going until all of my stock is sold out,” Hunt explained. “We’re going to have an open house on November 10. All of these events and special sales will be posted on our Facebook and Instagram accounts. I also have an email blast going out to all of our rewards club members.”
When asked if it was “worth it,” Hunt replied, “I have been blessed with all of the women and high school kids that have worked for me. I have learned a lot from them. When you have a small business in a small community like this, it’s amazing how intertwined your life becomes with theirs. I will remember those times and relationships always. Every business owner on this street knows how special this community is and how supportive the residents are to the businesses here. It’s pretty remarkable.”
Hunt concluded, “I am one of those people that has to always be doing something, so this [retirement] is going to be an interesting experiment. Seriously, if you see me walking down Main Street in my jammies and slippers, you’ll know [retirement] is not going well for me.”