HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The grand opening of a women’s apparel shop in downtown Huntington is expected to bring more nationally recognized fashion.
Soma, which specializes in high-end women's lingerie and business wear, opens along Third Avenue across from Pullman Square. This happens on the heels of White House Black Market, which opened this past June right down the block.
Chico’s led the way, opening in Pullman Square in 2007. All three women's fashion stores are owned by the same company and all three steered to Huntington -- thanks to one woman.
While Verna Gibson is not a Huntington native, her roots run deep there -- starting in the 60s when she came to Marshall University.
Now in retail business, the national executive knows fashion and knows how to develop it. That's why she sees downtown Huntington as prime real estate ripe for growth.
“I'm just so happy to be a part of Huntington's revival because it's so exciting,” Gibson said.
She is a longtime friend of Huntington. Her love affair started with the city more than 50 years ago -- first as a student at Marshall University. She currently serves as the chairman of the Marshall University Board of Governors.
“I started here,” Gibson said. “I remember when people shopped, ate here and had lots to choose from. I'd like to see that happen again.”
And Gibson is doing a very large part to make that happen. She's responsible for bringing three national retail chain stores to the Pullman Square area.
“Look what's happening. It's so exciting. This is where it all started in 2007 when we opened Chico's,” Gibson said.
Gibson sits on the board of directors for Chico's, a company that also owns White House Black Market and Soma Intimates -- all upscale stores in women's fashion.
“Our women travel, they're exposed, they know what's good. I'm thrilled to be able to bring these three Chico's divisions here,” Gibson said. “You can see them from Third Avenue. There are two hotels and lots of eating establishments, so it's getting to be more and more a fun place to come.”
“Are you surprised other national retailers haven't jumped on the bandwagon and brought retail to Huntington’s downtown?” WSAZ.com’s Carrie Cline asked.
“Not surprised, maybe a tad bit disappointed, but we hope that as they see these successes they'll have a better understanding of these small downtown markets,” Gibson said.
She's hoping her newest introduction to Huntington will seal the deal. Soma Intimates is now open on Third Avenue -- highly visible right across from Pullman Square. Although it’s a fairly young division, Gibson has no doubt it will follow in the footsteps of its predecessors.
“We believe fashion starts underneath,” she said. “I only wear the vanishing back bra and panties. We love anything that’s vanishing.”
As long as it isn't business, Gibson believes the secret to success here is no longer a secret.
“We've begun and begun in a meaningful way,” she said. “A lot of people have put in a lot of work to make that happen, and we need to just get better and better and come up with more reasons to shop.”
Not only is Gibson on Chico's board of directors, she's chairman of the merchandise steering committee involved in product marketing and store locations.
Another hallmark of the Chico's brand is their charity to the community. This Thursday through Sunday, 10 percent of all sales from Chico's, White House Black Market and Soma go to the Marshall Artist's Series. They're also donating bras to Dressed for Success.