GONZALES — Beth Ambeau is going out on top.
After 29 years of serving as the go-to woman for formal wear, accessories and impeccable service, Ambeau, owner of Beth’s Boutique on North Burnside Avenue, is retiring and closing the shop’s doors May 31.
Ambeau, 62, wants to travel and spend more time with her three grandchildren in Texas and her husband of 44 years, Lou Ambeau, at their Gonzales home.
The decision to retire wasn’t an easy one, however.
“I’ve just reached a point in time where I’m embracing this next chapter,” Ambeau said.
Ambeau began considering retirement three years ago when she fell while cleaning out a shed behind the shop. Ambeau tore two ligaments and the meniscus in her right knee and did not bounce back as quickly as she expected, she said.
While she recovered, Beth’s Boutique continued to be successful without her, Ambeau said. The injury also allowed her time to think about the future, she said.
“I’m in the fourth quarter of my life and I’d love to be able to do more things, but it took a little while to digest that,” Ambeau said.
Beth’s Boutique is known not only around Ascension Parish but around the South for its selection of women’s clothing, prom and social occasion dresses, suits and accessories. The shop also provides formal wear for young men.
“We sell from Katy, Texas, to McComb, Mississippi, actually Jackson, and all the way up north to Bossier City,” Ambeau said.
The shop also is busy during Mardi Gras, she said.
“We’re known in the area for doing it the best,” Ambeau said.
Ambeau began her career working in the late Janice and Paul LeBlanc’s family-owned grocery store while still in high school. After graduation, Paul LeBlanc moved her to his wife’s dress shop and took her to Dallas to attend her first buyer’s market.
“When we came back I told Mrs. Janice, ‘I know what I’m going to do for the rest of my life,’ ” Ambeau said.
Ambeau opened Beth’s Boutique in 1987 and has been at her current location for the past 16 years, she said.
The shop opened the same year as the first phase of shops at the Tanger Outlets. Ambeau realized then she needed to fill a niche the outlet mall did not or risk going out of business.
“I’m going to do my job better than I’ve ever done it in my life,” Ambeau remembered telling a reporter interviewing her about how she planned to keep her business afloat. “I’m going to figure out what I do that they don’t.”
Initially only selling casual wear and accessories like jewelry and belts, Ambeau said she realized the outlet mall did not sell formal wear.
To increase her shop’s business, Ambeau went to local high schools and helped the girls on the homecoming court decide what was appropriate to wear on the football field, at the dance and at other venues.
“I never charged a nickel for it,” Ambeau said. “It was a service. I truly believe you give and it comes back to you.”
Ambeau also started a fashion advisory board with students serving as her “walking, talking heartbeat” who kept her abreast of trends and served as models at the shop for the fashion shows Ambeau would host.
Early customers became customers for life.
“She’s just always been a staple of the community,” said Patrice Pujol, former Ascension Parish Schools superintendent, who shopped at Beth’s Boutique from its early days for professional clothing and accessories.
Pujol said Ambeau would run suits over to St. Amant High School when Pujol served as principal there many years ago for her to wear to crown the school’s homecoming court.
Pujol said Ambeau was always cognizant of Pujol’s busy schedule and made sure she had what she needed.
“I have been a longtime customer of hers and have always enjoyed her service and her sense of style and her willingness to figure out what each customer needs,” Pujol said. “She’s been a delight.”
Ascension Parish Clerk of Court Bridget Hanna said the employees at Beth’s Boutique “went above and beyond” when Hanna searched for the perfect gown to wear as this year’s queen of the East Ascension Rotary Club’s Mardi Gras Ball.
Hanna said she explained what type of formal wear she was looking for and shop employees brought her dozens of dresses to try. When it seemed as though Hanna wouldn’t find the dress she loved, the shop made it happen, she said.
“I just don’t know where else you can go and get that kind of service,” Hanna said.
Ambeau is holding a going out of business sale until the shop closes to get rid of her spring and summer shipments then plans on spending her summer at the beach with friends and family.
“I just really want to say thank you to the community from the bottom of my heart and Lou’s heart because they have blessed us 10 times over,” Ambeau said.