New boutique, home decor store in Gibson City, a family affair
By WILL BRUMLEVE
GIBSON CITY — Alicia Skinner and her youngest daughter, Ashleigh, share a lot in common.
For starters, they have the same middle name – Renee – and have first names that start with the same letter – A.
They also have many common interests and have similar tastes in fashion and decoration, for example.
For a month, they even share the same workplace.
On March 29, the mother-daughter duo opened A Renee — a women’s clothing boutique and home decor boutique — at 113 E. 9th St. in downtown Gibson City. The new family business has brought Alicia Skinner and her 18-year-old daughter closer, literally and figuratively, like never before.
“My mom and I really look alike,” Ashleigh Skinner said, “so we go at each other almost every day and piss each other off. But it’s nothing too crazy; we always laugh about it afterwards.
“I love it,” Alicia Skinner said. “We have become even closer. Like she said, we can go head-to-head — mother and daughter — but we have a lot of similar tastes and equally, so that makes it easier.
Also helping out with the business is Jerry Skinner, Alicia’s husband of 15 years and father of Ashleigh Skinner and stepfather of Alexa Elliott, Alicia’s eldest child at 24.
“My husband is definitely the backbone,” Alicia Skinner said. “He’s the secretary, the financier (the helper). He helped us with all of this, and we certainly couldn’t do this without him.
“He’ll tell you he loves watching us laugh,” Ashleigh Skinner added, “and that makes him proud of us.”
Ashleigh Skinner had long dreamed of having the opportunity to launch her own boutique. The future high school graduate said she jumped at the chance when her father asked if she would be interested.
“It was his whole idea. He really wanted us to succeed,” Ashleigh Skinner said. “He came to us and said, ‘Would you like to do that?’ And I said, ‘Yes, of course.’ So I took the opportunity and ran with it. … It’s amazing that he gave me this opportunity, and I love him to death.
The boutique side of the business is run by Ashleigh Skinner, while the home decor side is run by her mother. The fact that Ashleigh Skinner finished her high school career online — through Roberts’ Heritage Preparatory Academy — allowed her to have an open schedule and be at the store when it’s open five days a week.
“I love doing it,” Ashleigh Skinner said. “I come here (to the store) every day and I really don’t get bored. I even work from home, trying to get new stuff out, so it’s been really fun. Plus, it really helped me grow. I was very shy, and it brought me out of my shell to talk to people and it really helps me.
For Alicia Skinner, the store was also a dream come true. A designer of silk arrangements and wreaths, she is now able to sell her personalized home decor creations in her store.
“Mom always loved interior design,” Ashleigh Skinner said, “so we just decided to put something together.”
Alicia Skinner’s handmade silk arrangements and wreaths aren’t the only locally produced home decor items on sale in the store. Candles made by Mariah Hildebrand of Gibson City, owner of Susie Bee Candles, are also available for purchase.
Other home decor items available for purchase include pictures, pillows, blankets and mirrors – “just anything you would need for your home,” Alicia Skinner said.
“We have a bit of everything,” Alicia Skinner said. “We have tons of different styles.”
On the store side, the clothes and accessories are available in several sizes. Shirt sizes range from extra small to 3X, while jeans sizes range from 24 to 32, Ashleigh Skinner said.
“We have jeans, t-shirts, shorts, blouses (and) tank tops, as well as rompers and dresses,” Ashleigh Skinner said.
The name of the business – A Renee – of course refers to the first and middle names of the owners. Under the slogan “decor with style”, the shop is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday; and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday. It is closed on Sunday and Monday.
Since opening last month, business has been “incredible”, said Ashleigh Skinner.
“Everyone has given us really honest and good opinions on what they think, and they think it’s just great for the city,” Ashleigh Skinner said. “Everybody’s super excited about different things coming to Gibson (City), so everybody’s been super supportive. … I feel like it’s just something different that’s needed. here.
While the store is “a small place” with only three rooms, Ashleigh Skinner said, “we try to do what we can with the space we have.” They regularly change their products and change their presentation.
“We’ve done new inventory twice already,” Alicia Skinner said. “Since we’ve been open, it’s been a lot of people.”
Alicia Skinner – whose maiden name is Acree – grew up in Gibson City and many of her family members still live in the area. She moved back to Gibson City from Bloomington when her eldest daughter was 2 and has remained there ever since.
“Family definitely brought me back,” Alicia Skinner said.
After completing her senior year of high school online this spring, Ashleigh Skinner plans to attend Parkland College in Champaign for two years to pursue an associate’s degree in marketing and business. Whether she stays at Gibson City after that remains undecided.
“I don’t know what the next few years will bring,” said Ashleigh Skinner, who attended Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley Schools before enrolling in Heritage Prep as a high school student. “I would love to move to Charleston, SC, but I don’t know if I would bring the apparel part of the business with me and branch out or (instead) try to work for a few big boutiques there that I’ I love working for.
For now anyway, Ashleigh Skinner – and her mother too – are happy where they are today, doing what they do.
“It’s actually really amazing,” Ashleigh Skinner said. “I always dreamed of being part of a clothing company. I’ve always loved going to small town boutiques, so this was a dream of mine.