EDMOND — Lesta Oliver never owned a store-bought dress until she was in the eighth grade. Her mother used the fabric from chicken feed sacks to make clothes for her and her sisters.
The 79-year-old owner of Simply Southwest, in downtown Edmond, has seen a lot of fashion changes since she put on her first store-bought red wool suit many years ago.
Oliver plans to retire after 30 years and is closing her last store at 1 N Broadway after 22 years at that location. The store was at 105 S Broadway for three years.
Her store is a mix of American Indian and Southwest jewelry, artwork and contemporary women’s clothing.
“I built this from scratch,” Oliver said. “We have things that are not a need, but a want.”
Her Edmond store is expected to close next month. She said she doesn’t have a specific date because she had overstocked the store and is holding a going-out-of-business sale.
She had a similar store in Tulsa that closed in 2003 and one in the Oklahoma City Stockyards area that closed in 2002. Those stores were run by her sons, Kyle and Neil.
“I have put myself into this,” Oliver said. “In my heart, I know I have accomplished what I wanted to do. I really, really like this. I am really going to miss it.”
Her customers are going to miss her too. Some are known to walk in the front door and ask that Oliver “just dress them” for an occasion.
“She knows what she is doing,” said Regina Bingham, a customer and now employee for the retirement sale.
Bingham, a former rural mail carrier, was accustomed to wearing T-shirts and jeans but with Oliver’s help now dresses more fashionably.
“The whole experience has been amazing,” Bingham said. “It has been fun for me.”
Oliver said the economic situation that started over four years ago contributed to her decision.
“Business has been a little worse every year,” said Oliver, of Oklahoma City. “Everything is higher — utilities, freight, and insurance. Everything is up, salaries.”
Oliver started her fashion career as a buyer for Chez Elle in Nichols Hills. When that store closed, she started a home-based business, tailoring clothing with unique American Indian ribbon accents. She held fashion shows at churches, country clubs and luncheons with models wearing her clothing.
She held fashion shows on the side while working as a secretary for Rep. Bill Smith, R-Ringling, and Rep. Don Garrison, D-Lindsay.
“I love fashions,” Oliver said. “I loved making unique things. I was having a good time. I got so busy and my husband told me ‘Lesta, this has got to go.’”
She first went to Guthrie where she sold her clothing in a co-op at the Blue Bell Saloon, where Miss Lizzie’s brothel once operated.
“Things really took off and then I opened the store in Edmond,” Oliver said.
Oliver said she is going to miss her customers and the friends she made over the years going to market.
“My customers have been loyal and encouraging through the years,” Oliver said. “Some of my very best friends for the rest of my life, I have made through this store.”
She has lots of things planned for her retirement years. An Alaskan cruise is at the top of her list.
“I want to visit friends and family that I haven’t taken the time to do,” Oliver said. “I want to do some traveling.
“It is going to be hard to give this up.”