Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Little shop of courage

Success at farmers market gave Brenda Weiss the confidence she needed to quit her day job

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It all started with a booth at the St. Norbert Farmers' Market more than a decade ago, where Brenda Weiss first offered her original beaded pieces to the public. Her creations sold like crazy -- so much so, it gave her the courage to quit the insurance business, where she felt like a purple and orange person in a blue and brown industry.

She started a shop on Academy Road and set up beading classes as well. That location wasn't the best for her; traffic went whizzing by on the short cut to the St. James bridge. Where many people might have given up the dream, she and her husband, Shane, took the "Go big or go home" attitude. Instead of folding, they went to China, where Brenda loaded up on thousands of unique beads and came back to reopen at 653 Corydon Ave., where her shop, Boutique Unique, is much busier.

The sexy split-level shop, which used to be the Ooh La La hair salon, now looks like a fancy French brothel in hot pink and charcoal with demi-mannequins and mirrors on the walls. Most days, it's full of women checking out the glitzy cocktail dresses and funky accessories -- although guys are welcome.

"If a guy knows what his woman likes, I'll take him around the store, help him pick something great, gift-wrap it, get him a card and have him sign it. In a few minutes, he's out of the store looking all thoughtful and ready to go."

Weiss tends to think the best of people. When she first arrived in Corydon Village, a busy neighbourhood with lots of foot traffic, she decided to put a display of colourful purses outside to attract people. Quite a few people were attracted -- and many went home with "free" purses that day. Now she's got them discreetly chained.

Weiss teaches jewelry-making courses in the back, such as Seven Days of Bling, where you take a group of your BFFs and everybody goes home with seven pairs of earrings they made themselves.

This month, the shop is hopping with brides and their entourages picking up custom-designed beaded fantasy headpieces to go with their veils. While some brides want a tiara and the whole nine yards, Weiss said a hot trend this season is bird-cage veils -- feather and bead "fascinator" pieces on combs for the side of the bride's hairdo, with detachable short net veils.

Weiss hasn't forgotten her roots, though. Every Saturday, rain or shine, you can still find her from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Booth No. 59 at the St. Norbert Farmers' Market, selling beaded jewellery and chatting with the locals.

"The greatest people come there -- people who like to shop local, people who have come year after year."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 24, 2012 A8

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