Alley on Sunset’s owner Sheila Speer is a retail genius; although she has a beautiful collection of women’s clothing and accessories, her main goal is creating a unique atmosphere at her shop and making her clients feel amazing in her attire. Combined with her extensive knowledge of retail and her passion for fashion, she is an unstoppable force.
“It is about what looks so great on them and how they feel in a garment. It’s a feeling,” Sheila said. “It’s a whole philosophical thing.”
Sheila has been at Sunset Plaza for about a year and a half in her 11,000-square-foot store. Though it is her first time personally owning a business there, it is not her first time running a retail store at Sunset Plaza.
Getting From Airplanes to Clothing
Sheila did not start out with retail after she graduated high school and moved to California from New York. Instead, she worked at Pacific Airmotive Corporation. She quickly became the executive head of the sales department for Pratt and Whitney, where she was in charge of national and international sales and meeting the heads of different airlines. She also started a company newspaper and recreation club and planned company events. After five and a half years, she make the jump.
Sheila worked her way up with The General Store and Alan Austin’s in Beverly Hills before becoming manager of the Holly Harp Store at Sunset Plaza in 1973. She recalled being “amazed” and “mesmerized” by the store’s atmosphere and clothing, a feeling she has strived the create in her own store.
“It was wild. It was the best time,” Sheila said. “I went with Holly for 10 years in the heyday of dressy and all the movie stars.”
After running the store until 1983, Sheila opened a showroom in the Fashion Mart with Jim Harp. In 1985, she and her partner John Williams became co-owners of Melrose Alley, a boutique specializing in women’s fashion and accessories. They ran the store together until 1993 when Sheila Speer became the sole owner. She stayed at that location for 25 years until fall 2018 when the building was slated to be demolished. With only 30 days to vacate, she reached out to Sunset Plaza and returned to her current location, along with her extensive knowledge and passion.
Change Over the Years
For Sheila, she has had an incredible experience over the years. She worked her way up through several retail businesses before building her own brand. She has also seen how Sunset Plaza has changed over the years to create a personalized service for its customers that is not seen anywhere else.
“Human beings don’t change. We want personal, beautiful care, no matter what,” Sheila said.
And she takes that to heart. To her, it is so much more than just standing idly by while customers shop; she makes suggestions and helps the customers feel good in what they wear. She appeals to their feelings and how they perceive themselves.
“It is the personal service and the truth and how I look at people when they are dressed. When somebody walks in, I’m not looking at their face and their makeup and this and that. It’s a feeling about a shape and where I could guide somebody or bring something that they didn’t think they would hear and have them try someone on,” Sheila said. “It is the end result that is very heart whelming with how they feel about an experience where somebody is telling them the truth with a little guidance and fun.”
A big part of creating this feeling making sure the store’s atmosphere is unique. Sheila provides treats and drinks for customers, and her comfy couches and chairs entice customers to stay and browse for hours.
“I love when people hang out there,” Sheila said. “They talk to each other, too, the customers. They don’t even know each other. The atmosphere that is created – I believe in all of that.”
If you are interested in learning more about Sheila Speer, visit Alley on Sunset today. Ask Sheila about her book “Once Upon a Time at Sunset Plaza,” which looks at the history of Sunset Plaza and Sheila’s experience in retail.