Since opening in 1996, Once Upon a Time has become a Crestline institution, the go-to destination for customers others in search of classic, specialty children’s clothing, linens, furniture, and accessories, as well as nursery design. Co-owner Linda Mayer Flaherty laughs as she says, “At the time [the shop opened], I often joked about my children not being ready to be mothers, but I was ready to be a grandmother so I opened a baby store.”
Flaherty got her start making custom linens for nurseries, which she turned into a business called Nursery Décor. She was studying interior design at Southern Institute at the same time, and as part of her class work, was one of a group of students who designed a twin’s nursery for the 1994 Decorator’s Showhouse. While working on the nursery, she saw an advertisement for a European crib she thought would be perfect for the project. She imported two Simon Horn Cots (as they are called in Europe) for the room, and after the success of the Showhouse, took the cribs to a consignment shop to sell. The first one sold within two hours, and the second shortly thereafter. The shop owner wanted more of the cribs, and so began Flaherty’s 10-year career as the exclusive American representative and importer for Simon Horn Furniture.
Despite her success with Simon Horn Furniture, Flaherty felt a new dream flickering to life. So she started researching opening a children’s shop. She was put in contact with Merrill McCullough, who became her partner in Once upon a time, LLC. A year after opening the shop, the pair purchased The Heirloom Shop in Crestline, and six months later, agreed to separate the business. “Merrill preferred the clothing and took The Heirloom Shop, and I preferred the design end so I took Once Upon a Time, LLC,” says Flaherty.
Once upon a time became a family endeavor in 2005 when Flaherty’s daughter Sarah began working with her, and in 2009, became a partner. That was a big year for the mother and daughter as they expanded the business and opened a second location in Homewood.
Alabama Baby & Child: Can you tell us a little about your family?
LINDA FLAHERTY: I am the second of four girls, and am married to Matthew Joseph Flaherty, Jr. In November we will celebrate 42 years of marriage. We have two daughters: Julie-Ann and Sarah. Jules, as I call her, is our oldest. She is a teacher and lives with her husband Leo in Waltham, Massachusetts (I miss her terribly!) Sarah is our youngest and also a partner with me in the business. She and her husband Michael live in Birmingham with their three children, Jay (4), Parker (soon to be 3), and William (6 weeks). I thank God for these blessings every day.
ABC: What is it like to work with your daughter?
LF: As a parent I have always been proud of my children and their accomplishments, but it wasn’t until Sarah and I started working together that I actually saw her as an adult. She has brought new ideas and energy to the business, and is a real partner in every sense of the word.
ABC: What is your favorite thing about being a retailer?
LF: The diversity of my business is what keeps me passionate about being a retailer. Whether it is designing custom linens, selecting product at market, changing the floor and window displays, or registering a customer for shower gifts, I love it all! I know our customers have many choices to shop for baby things, so I am very grateful to have the opportunity to work with them at a time so that is so important in their lives. It is the satisfaction and smile on customer faces that make it all worthwhile.
201 Country Club Park
Mountain Brook, AL
Homewood Central District
2900 18th Street South
Homewood, AL 35209