Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fishing for fashion

Lockport an unexpected hotbed of high-end clothiers

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Why are car-loads of gal pals barrelling down Henderson Highway to Lockport? They're not looking for fish, you can bet on that.

But their wheels are smokin' and -- here's a hot clue -- so are their credit cards.

They have two secret spots for big catches in mind -- Eveline Street and Madison Lane boutiques -- and they'll spend hours at each of these places full of fashionista clothes, shoes and accessories "for real women." Translation: "All sizes from small to multiple X."

Who knew Lockport was a fashion mecca?

Eveline Street boutique

THE easiest spot to find is Eveline Street boutique, because you'll practically run right into it when Henderson Highway ends. That's address 23031 on No. 44 Hwy., which goes left over the bridge and the famous locks. Beside the huge Lockport Convenience and General Store, clinging to the right side is an old-fashioned white house with a veranda and weathered stick furniture. That's the place. Screech to a halt any day, noon to 5 p.m.

The main attraction at Eveline Street, aside from the colourful floor-to-ceiling stock, is a force of nature called Huda Haddad. She's a dark-eyed, blond-haired fashion-forward kind of woman. She bounces around the shop, running back and forth throwing fun/glam clothing into cubicles for people, exhorting them to try things on -- so un-Canadian-like. Haddad quickly reveals she's from the Middle East and immigrated to Canada when she was one-and-a-half. With six older siblings, little Huda soon learned how to survive in the pack -- and how to get noticed.

"Everybody needs a passion. Every single day, everybody needs to find a reason to wag their tail," says the 43-year-old entrepreneur. Her passion is her clothing, shoes and accessories store. It's famous for one-size-fits-all clothing -- tons of it. And no, they're not shapeless mumus.

It's clothing made from merino wool that breathes and stretches to fit any size from zero to 4X. Haddad says you can kiss goodbye to needing a set of fat clothes and skinny clothes, or different summer and winter clothes, as it's porous and feels like soft, stretch cotton, not wool. The material wicks away perspiration. You stay cool in summer and warm in winter. Best of all, you can trade clothes with any of your girlfriends -- they will all fit.

"I have a customer who is a vet, and she was so excited we had clothing made from merino sheep wool."

"I used to be a bra model," Haddad bursts out, while pulling a sexy stretchable dress on for a photo shoot.

"I love my body at any size. I think I'm hot, and you should think you're hot, too," she yells out the neck-hole. "Of course, I come from a different culture where women are supposed to be curvy."

Haddad says she only buys clothing that is manufactured in First-World collieries because she doesn't want people labouring in sweatshops to make her clothes. "It costs me more, but for God's sake it's really better to know where things are being made."

Some of her favourite brands for the store are April Cornell and Cut-Loose; she also has a big bookcase artfully packed with Crabtree and Evelyn products.

Her Fluevog display of shoes and boots hits you right in the face as you enter the store; some of the sexy heels look like ornate Victorian chair legs.

"My motto is 'Come play dress-up.' I never want anybody to feel pressure. I want them to feel comfortable in the store and in what they wear. People drive out here and stay for hours. I just keep throwing stuff at them I think they'll like in the change room. We have lots of fun."

Madison Lane Boutique

LOOK to the right of the Half Moon hotdog emporium at 6860 Henderson Hwy., just before Lockport. You'll see racks of clothing blowing in the breeze. On inspection, they're definitely not fishing clothes. This is a funky, high-quality fashion boutique that would put any city store to shame. Why so close to the hotdogs? Owner Charlene McIntosh confesses, "That Half Moon guy next door is my husband, Wayne McIntosh." She explains Madison Lane is a seasonal business, meaning she closes in the dead of winter and she and Wayne go gallivanting to warmer climes.

But, from March to Dec. 1, it's going full throttle, seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. "or later if there are are still customers in the store." They have to make hay while the sun shines, she explains, and it's been cold this year.

The first thing you notice is a sea of colours and sensual materials and a wall of to-die-for coloured purses, not to mention sparkling bling-bling up at the front counter. And here's the deal: "We don't advertise much because we have so much word of mouth." People come to the little shop from all over, and visitors to the Half Moon often wander in. The wives take one look and stage whisper across the shop: "I'll be back when I don't have my husband with me!"

The concept is people can shop there and look unique. "I only buy one piece in each size for each item. I have people who come here all the way from Brandon because they go to a lot of functions and don't want to run into someone wearing the same thing." Sizes are "for real women," and are from small to 3X."

"I opened this store out of a love for fashion. I'm a chronic shopper by nature." She encourages everyone working in the shop to model the clothes in the store when they're working.

"I never sell anything I wouldn't wear myself."

That can sometimes mean staff are selling the clothes off their backs and the accessories off their necks, arms and feet! "Every day we're walking billboards. I've had people buy my whole outfit and have had to transfer the stuff out of my purse to sell it."

Jennifer Faubert, who works evenings at the store, says they sell brands such as Simon Chang, Alison Sheri, IDO, Hill Tribe and Piccadilly, which people love to see.

One of the biggest draws are shoes she buys exclusively from a man who brings them in from India.

"When I saw them, I said, 'Oh my God, I have to have these!' " They are heels of only 1.5 to two inches, glitzy on top -- often beaded -- with a padded sole and rubber treads on the bottom.

This is hardly a backwoods business, though it's surrounded by nature. McIntosh attends buying shows Toronto, Edmonton, Phoenix and Las Vegas for her shop in Lockport to make it world-class.

Lockport Convenience and General Store

DON'T leave town without stopping in at the giant Lockport Convenience and General Store. Roxy and Mike Faires gave me the royal tour. Half the store is a liquor mart, with giant bottles guarding the entrance to the department.

"This is the biggest liquor vendor in Manitoba -- my father, Wayne Faires, spearheaded everything," says Mike.

The rest of the store tells the story of Lockport and the needs of the fishermen who drive and/or fly in from all over Canada and the United States to fish for more than 20 species in the rushing river.

You can buy live bait and tackle right next door to swimming pool supplies for the pools at mansions on either side of the river.

Maureen Scurfield drove to Lockport twice in two days for no reason than she liked it so much the first time.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 19, 2013 A1

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