When one door closed for Julie Lester, she opened another. “I have always worked in retail and had worked at a store called Children’s Garden in Sarnia for 10 years,” Lester says. “When it closed, I knew I couldn’t stay at home, and my husband suggested I begin looking for a part-time job.” She started looking and soon afterward became sole proprietor of Belly Babe Boutique, a clothing store offering maternity and plus-size clothing located in Mitton Village. “I went from part-time to full-time very quickly.”The original plan for Belly Babe Boutique was to offer high-end clothing, but after a very short period, Lester pivoted her focus to maternity clothes. “The sales simply were not there at the beginning, but they are there now.” Selling maternity clothes comes with its own set of challenges, given the short window of wear by the purchaser. “I would say the biggest challenge I face is convincing people of the value of maternity clothing.” Many maternity pieces can only be worn for six months, but higher quality items like those found at Belly Babe Boutique are designed to last through multiple pregnancies. While Lester can’t change how long you are in maternity clothes, she does balance her price points by buying back used maternity clothing and offering them for resale. Belly Babe Boutique also sells a selection of baby clothing and locally-made baby gear. 

Lester insists getting to know her customers is one of the blessings of owning Belly Babe. “I have a lot of repeat customers,” Lester says. “They come into the store when they are having their first child and then they come back for the second and third children. I have made a lot of lifelong friends through the store.” As a wife and mother of four, Lester finds it easy to relate to her customers and their experiences. “I have two wingback chairs and when somebody sits down in one of them, I know they need to chat.”Though being a store owner and operator is time-consuming, Lester doesn’t notice many other differences from her days as an employee. “That’s because everywhere I worked in the past, I treated it like the business was mine and I was the owner,” Lester claims. “I was always a manager or the owner's right-hand man. I tended to work for small businesses rather than at the bigger box stores.” Currently Lester is a one-woman show but says if she’s ever in a pinch, she has a few women she trusts that can come in and help

Lester expanded her inventory in 2020 at Belly Babe to include non-maternity plus-size clothing. She sees a very bright future for her store. “I have been able to keep my doors open every day, even during this COVID-19 pandemic,” Lester says. “That is the most rewarding part of this job.”