Fashions come and fashions go, but a heart built for hard work and sustained on love never goes out of style.
Mable Streets has owned and operated MLS Boutique in Kilgore for nearly 14 years. From the very beginning of her business, she has maintained her focus on running the best business she can manage, with an eye to making a better Kilgore for us all to enjoy.
“I was born and raised in Kilgore,” she said.
“But I lived away from Kilgore for about 25-plus years. During that time away from home, I had the desire to come back home and be an asset to our town. When I would visit home, I noticed that when the economy started falling down in the early 70s, that our local stores began to close. The big franchise stores would close out and it left us empty. We had drug stores and JC Penney’s here, a lot of stores here, but then we almost became a ghost town.”
She decided she would return to Kilgore after retiring from a long and successful career in banking. After 25 years working as vice president of several major banks, she longed to return to that hometown feeling.
“I said, OK, let’s look at bringing some business here to Kilgore. This building was an opportunity for me 14 years ago. Thank God I had a chance to purchase this building. To bring back some life to Kilgore, that was my decision.”
Owning any kind of business is not easy, and Streets says she encountered many difficulties in her own business career. However, she found the community which she had known and loved came together around her to support and lift her up.
“It’s been very hard. I’ve seen so many businesses come and go, close and open. But it’s been very hard. When you open any business, you know it’s going to take years to build and build. So how do I do that?”
Using skills she developed in advertising from her banking experience, she decided to focus on engagement with the community. She teamed up with the pastor at First Christian Church and began organizing and hosting fashion shows, for both women and men, at the church facility. The results were powerful.
“By teaming together, we brought together all walks of life, all races, creeds, colors. By doing that, I saw how the women in Kilgore were pulling together. They were working together, even the men, the men had shows too. You hear people say it takes a village to raise a child. A lot of people will say ‘this business is my baby.’ It took the village of Kilgore to help anchor us to stay in Kilgore locally. Then you hear your customers coming in and they say ‘we want to make sure you stay open.’”
Her engagement with the community hasn’t changed over the years, as the store still hosts pot-luck luncheons and all kinds of get-togethers. Gesturing at a table with four chairs at the front of her store, she says “A lot of relationships have been built right here at this table.”
Her store’s location, at 822 E. Main St., is a short distance from the heart of historic downtown Kilgore. This has been difficult, she said, because the store isn’t quite close enough to the center of town to be in the middle of big downtown events. However, she has found success and loyal customers by making sure she engages with the community just as much as her customers engage with her business.
“One of the things that we look at in a business environment is that people can make you or people can break you. The community has made me. Understanding the community, understanding the people, that’s how a community can make you. I’m out there just as much as they are, with their ups and with their downs. When you’re out there with the community, it makes a huge difference in how we can run this business.”
Mable Streets knows as well as anyone how challenges can present themselves, both in life and in business ownership.
“It’s been a struggle. I’m not going to lie, it’s been a struggle. Every day is one day at a time.”
But she also knows very well the secret to success, whether you are opening the doors on your first day of business, going to a church service or meeting new people for the first time.
“Treat people like you want to be treated. That’s what has helped me out. Treat people with love.”