Words by Annie Barnett
In the windows of Morning Glory boutique, fashion-forward mannequins strike a pose, holding sway over Burlingame Avenue as they have for 50 years. Inside the store, creative energy reverberates from the artful displays and robust spring inventory. With a combination of hard work and business savvy, owner Paulette Munroe celebrates Morning Glory’s half-century reign on the Avenue—outlasting all other businesses as the oldest store along this popular Peninsula shopping street.
Morning Glory is the story of young entrepreneurs with big ambitions and an enduring community bonded over decades. “Often, half of our customers know one another,” observes Paulette. “It’s like getting together with your girlfriends every day.” She describes how patrons will come in to talk, see friends and find comfort in the camaraderie of the store. “If you’re having a tough day and you go in there, you end up feeling great,” shares longtime customer Judy O’Neal. “They are so supportive and treat you like family.”
In 1972, after graduating early from Burlingame High School, Paulette sold clothing she designed and sewed to the original owner of Morning Glory. Growing up as one of seven children each a year apart, Paulette’s industrious spirit found an outlet in sewing and she even made her own prom dresses. “We didn’t have a lot of money, but my mother taught us to sew and she would buy us all the fabric we wanted,” she recalls fondly.
When Paulette learned Morning Glory would soon be closing, she hatched a plan. “I talked with my father about buying Morning Glory with my sister,” she recounts. “I worked at a restaurant and my sister worked at a laundromat, and he agreed to match our savings with a loan at eight percent interest.” Before long, at just 18 and 19 years of age, Paulette and Maureen Monroe became the owners of Morning Glory, selling clothes by day while Paulette continued waitressing in the evenings as they built the business.
“People used to say we were a cross between Martha Stewart and U2,” laughs Paulette. ”I was one way and she was another, and it worked really well for a long time.” Maureen did the windows and books, and Paulette sewed all of the alterations, which she still does today as a complimentary service.
After 40 years, Maureen left Morning Glory to pursue other business interests and Wendy Thrasher, a longtime employee for four decades, stepped up to help with buying for the store. “It is like going shopping all day long and picking whatever you like,” Paulette smiles. “And you don’t have to wonder whether it fits or will look good on you.”
According to Paulette, one of the keys to Morning Glory’s longevity is loyal staff who have contributed to the business for decades: “They all stay a really long time and get relationships going with customers.” Adds Wendy, “I’m still helping one customer I’ve had since the ’70s.”
While many stores have cut back on inventory in recent years, Morning Glory has continued to maintain a large, carefully-curated collection, often with racks flowing out the front door. Whereas comfort has been the buzzword of late, this spring, Paulette sees a big shift away from athleisure to clothes for going out and even formal wear. “I think more people are trying to get out of their sweatpants because they’ve been living in them for the last two years,” notes Wendy. “They are trying to get a little more polished but still casual.”
Wendy recommends accessorizing with jewelry to help update an outfit. “The shipwreck look where you wear a ton of necklaces works,” she suggests. Another longtime employee Shannon Kane points out, “Florals are huge this season. People want bright, bold colors and something fun.” She also suggests pairing different jackets, such as a blazer or bomber, to dress up or down a dress.
Paulette and her sister Maureen celebrating Morning Glory’s 10th anniversary in 1982
Paulette’s 26-year-old daughter, Josefina Beto, is following the family clothing legacy with her own thrifting website that emphasizes reuse and repurposing. “She is part of the culture of not wasting,” explains Paulette. Josefina also helps out at Morning Glory and serves as a model for many of the store’s photo shoots. Meanwhile, Paulette is not slowing down and still revels in helping customers, even if that means alterations stretching into the evening. “Everybody is going to four weddings as they have been so backed up. Dressy dresses are huge for us right now,” she remarks.
Paulette says that one of her super powers is her ability to make decisions. “There is nothing in my life that I am indecisive about,” she says. Customers and friends will come into the store and rely on her sense of style when they need to find the best look for an occasion. In her spare time, she applies that same ability in making design decisions for renovations, which she has done for 11 different homes. “Wallpapering, sewing, building a house and decorating a store are the same thing—it’s all related,” Paulette sums up. “It’s all about being creative.”
Through changing fashion trends and economic cycles, Morning Glory continues to maintain its multi-generational appeal, catering to customers from 18 to 80. “Fashion isn’t like it used to be where you think one thing can be the look,” explains Paulette. “You have to have every look for everybody.” For over five decades, Morning Glory has done just that, drawing a steady stream of regulars along the historic avenue where Bing Crosby once strolled.