It was Linda Martin’s lifelong dream to open her own clothing boutique, and at age 62—after retiring from a 40-year career in human resources—she did just that. Now, she’s on a mission to inspire other women to chase their dreams, too.
Linda Martin’s plan began to really take shape after she asked for a sign.
She wanted to open a clothing boutique—a somewhat surprising decision, given she was 62 and retired—and didn’t know what to call it. “I took myself out to lunch, started jotting down some notes, and then I heard this voice that said, ‘flutter,’” says Martin. “I liked it immediately. I’ve always looked at butterflies as a metaphor for women. We are beautiful. Delicate. Underestimated. After all, it takes a lot of strength to break out of that cocoon, but butterflies do—and then they fly.”
Martin thought she might be on to something with Flutter, so she asked her mother—who had passed away just a year earlier—to give her a sign. “It may sound corny, but I opened a Vogue magazine and there was a fashion spread with butterflies all around the model,” she says. “And in that moment, I said, ‘OK, I’m really going to do this.’”
While opening her own store was a new career move, it was one that was within Martin’s wheelhouse. She started her career in the merchandising department at Bamberger’s, a division of Macy’s, in Menlo Park, NJ. A few years later, she moved into the human resources department, where she stayed until she retired after 35 years with the company. “At the time, HR was really about employee relations, labor relations, and benefits—but I always thought of it as being about maximizing employees’ capabilities,” says Martin. While her dream of opening her own retail shop was always in the background, she didn’t think about it too much when she was with Macy’s. “I loved my job, and was often recognized for the work I did,” she says. “I always thought to myself, ‘This is my career, and I’m doing well.’ It’s like when you have a happy marriage, you don’t think, ‘Gee, what else is out there?’”
When Martin retired from Macy’s at age 55, she thought the time to open her retail store had finally come. She looked at storefronts in Pennington, where she and her husband lived, and found one she really liked in an old building with two fireplaces, an original hitching post just outside the front door, and lots of light. Yet before she had time to really think about the feasibility of leasing the space and opening her store, she got a job offer she couldn’t refuse: The president of The Children’s Place, who she’d worked with at Macy’s, asked Martin to come on board to help with the store’s acquisition of the Disney Stores. “That put my dream on hold—but I knew it would also put me in the position financially to eventually open my store,” she says.
Martin stayed at The Children’s Place for 6 years, and left to help take care of her mother, who’d been diagnosed with dementia. “I spent the last year of her life with her, and helped my father take care of her,” says Martin. “Ten months after my mom passed away, I lost my father. He was so devoted to her and missed her so much; they had such a great marriage.”
Soon after her parents died, a friend asked her if she’d help someone with her clothing boutique. It was a new business, and the owner was looking for someone with retailing experience to help with the opening.
Turns out the store was in Pennington—the exact location Martin had looked at and loved years earlier—and after just four months, that woman told Martin, “This has been great, but I’m moving to California—you can do this.” That’s when Martin heard a voice telling her to name the store “Flutter,” asked her mom for a sign, and shortly after seeing those butterflies in the Vogue fashion spread, she took over the lease and fulfilled her life’s dream of owning her own store.
“When I think of how it all happened—retiring, working for The Children’s Place, taking care of my parents, helping this woman with her boutique, opening my own boutique in the location I loved from the start—it’s almost unreal,” says Martin. “After I opened Flutter, the sun would shine into the store and I’d just look around and say, ‘Thank you, Mom.’”
It’s been six years since Martin opened Flutter, and she says she’s loved every minute of the experience. “When I first opened the store, my husband would ask me every morning, ‘Are you going to work today?’ And I’d always say no. Because Flutter never felt like work; it always felt like my life’s dream fulfilled,” says Martin.
Recently, Martin made the heartbreaking decision to close Flutter this Fall. “It was the hardest decision I ever had to make,” she says. “But I had to come to the realization that I just turned 69, and this is my 50th year of work. It’s time to take a break.” While she won’t sell Flutter, Martin says she’ll keep the spirit of the store—a place where women have come to feel good about themselves—alive through a blog on her website, where she aims to communicate with women about what’s important to them. “This next chapter will be yet another reinvention of sorts for me,” says Martin, who says she’ll keep in mind one of her favorite quotes, by W.M. Lewis, as she writes this next chapter of her life: “The real tragedy in life is not that it ends too soon, but that we wait too long to begin it.”
In the coming months, Martin says she’ll try to help as many women as she can see that it’s never too late to pursue their passions. “If the only thing stopping you is your age and the thought that you’ve waited too long, I say go for it,” she says. “And if you’re not sure what your passion is. Find it.
Just look at me. I’ll be forever grateful that I followed my dream, took a leap of faith, and like a butterfly, took flight.”