Sandy Pena is at one of her store counters, entering inventory to soon be featured on her website.
It’s early June and in downtown Weslaco the temperatures already feel like mid-August. Inside Lionel’s Western Wear & Boutique, Pena is upbeat and feeling the new possibilities in the midst of a pandemic.
“I’m not depressed or dejected at all,” Pena said. “I’m optimistic about retail. I think there’s still a place for touching and feeling (inventory), and not just ordering on Amazon and hoping to get lucky.”
Pena is a second-generation retail shop owner. Her father Lionel Oliveira started the business in the late 1950s on Texas Boulevard in Weslaco. His daughter became the protégé, owning and running the legacy business that survived peso devaluations, shopping malls, the Internet and now COVID-19.
Surviving to Thrive
Speaking of the latter, Pena, like many other business owners, stayed busy during the days of quarantine when many stores and restaurants were ordered closed.
“I took a leap of faith,” Pena said during the time her store was shut to the public. “I had a website, but I wasn’t utilizing it. My son is an accountant and he told me, ‘Mom, if you don’t get your website going now, you never will.'”
Two months later, Pena is still busy getting more of her inventory online. She was already a believer in social media via Facebook and Instagram A website, however, allows Pena to go into more detail and depth in showcasing the wide variety of inventory at Lionel’s. The surge in customer interest to her store’s website has energized Pena.
“They’re pre-looking,” she said of her customers. “It’s inspiring them to come in.”
You don’t stay in business for almost eight decades without adapting and changing to the times. Pena’s father started the store with a focus on serving construction workers, and farm and ranch hands. She still honors that legacy with rows of cowboy boots and hats. The brand names of Justin, Stetson and Resistol still hang proudly in the hat lines at Lionel’s.
Pena also has an extensive array of inventory that appeals to women, a word of the wise many years ago from her father to diversify the store’s inventory. Foremost among the women’s products these days are Consuela purses from Austin that are also made in Mexico.
“It’s doing really well for us,” she said of the purses. “Our customers come in and feel them, see them in person, not just order them online. It has helped us get through it.”
The pandemic, she says, has led to some clearer thinking and an emphasis on what had to change.
“You feel that urgency,” Pena said. “It’s sink or swim.”
After glancing again at her store’s emerging website, Pena offered another optimistic note.
“I’m looking forward to a good June that’s just as good as any I’ve ever had,” she said.