Johanna Galipeau was 19 when she opened Sweet Pea on Queen Street in May 2007. Now, four years later, following that success with a new store, Twisted Muse, she’s the queen of Halifax retail, earning kudos in three key Best of Halifax categories.
“I just always really wanted affordable clothes but offered in a high end, boutique feeling,” she says. “The prices are great but I want people to feel like they’re in a boutique in New York. Very high end, great service.”
Sweet Pea offers mostly dresses for special occasions and Galipeau and her staff works hard to make it a fun experience for the shopper.
“It’s not just jeans shopping. We pride ourselves at making everyone feel special.”
Galipeau has also been a big part of the growing emphasis on local designers in Halifax, making space on her racks for homegrown designs. “Katrina Tuttle is now a good friend of mine,” she says. “She’s also our hottest local designer and a lot of people come in for that.”
Twisted Muse came to life in mid-2010, Galipeau’s fourth summer in retail. With Sweet Pea offering pretty much just dresses, she had to find a new space to offer other cool items so as to not compromise the vision of her original store.
“When the opportunity came to go into the newly renovated Mills space, I had to jump on it. It’s such an amazing space and concept. I knew I had a bunch of cool stuff I could bring in.”
Galipeau describes Sweet Pea as “very girly,” while Twisted Muse is a bit more funky and about trends. “I can have more fun with it, creatively.”
Having run a business full time since her late teens has required a few sacrifices, including a regular night life, but with the help of her family, she’s managed to make a go of it and now employs a staff of 10 between the two stores. Because she is only 23, customers who don’t know her rarely assume she’s the proprietor. “My mom helps out at the store and they always think she’s the owner,” she says.
She says her parents warned her that the business would be her entire life. “And it really is, 24-seven. You’re always doing it, you’re always there. You have to be willing to give things up for it. I still have the energy for it, too. I don’t mind standing all day every day.”
First Runner-up: Jill Strong, Wildflower Clothing
Second Runner-up Dave Howlett, Strange Adventures