Amanda Hughes remembers strolling down the streets of downtown Muncie when she was little, peeking through cracked windows, counting boarded-up buildings and watching her hometown wear away.
“I grew up at a [time] where downtown was a ghost town,” Hughes said.
As Hughes grew up and graduated from Muncie Southside High School, she began working in retail. After five years of retail experience at Kohl’s, Hughes attended Anderson University and graduated in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in business.
In 2013, Hughes packed up and moved to Fishers, Indiana, to have a family with her husband, Brandon Hughes, where they lived for two years. In Fishers, Hughes said she knew her “old soul” always held onto downtown Muncie. That hold later guided her back to the home of her own boutique, Forever Young.
“We opened [Forever Young Boutique] because, when [my husband and I] had kids, we were shopping at boutiques, and we lived in a different area,” Hughes said. “When we moved back to Muncie, there weren’t any boutiques around.”
Forever Young Children’s Boutique, the original boutique located on Charles Street, opened in downtown Muncie in 2016. Selling clothing for newborns up to 7-year-olds, Hughes was eager to fuse her love for retail and her family when she opened her boutique.
“My passion has always been fashion and retail, so I decided to open up my own [boutique],” Hughes said. “From there, it flourished.”
However, in early 2021, Hughes said Forever Young “hit a wall,” as her business faced a handful of obstacles related to its marketing, age demographics and slow foot traffic. When working through solutions for more storage area, Hughes knew moving deeper into the heart of her favorite area of Muncie would do the trick.
“Until you gain clientele that love you, trust you and know your brand, it’s definitely hard to build that from the start,” Hughes said. “We’ve expanded — we have more storage areas. Now, we can [carry both] women’s and kids’, too.”
Forever Young Boutique was relocated to Walnut Street in August 2021 to gain more exposure in the community. Because of the move, Forever Young Boutique was able to add a new women’s clothing section. Moving to a busier location, Hughes said she has noticed more shoppers stopping in.
“[We] give downtown more retail, and people are more apt to walk around when there’s more retail down here,” Hughes said.
Forever Young Boutique’s clothing caters to babies, young children, women and college students. Hughes said she thinks Forever Young Boutique and other small businesses have brought a sense of life to downtown Muncie that was missing during Hughes’ childhood.
“To walk around and see the historic buildings and people owning businesses inside, it warms my heart,” Hughes said.
So far, Hughes said she has received positive reviews about the expansion and addition of collections for college students and women.
“Our mission is to carry the utmost trendy clothing that is everyday wear,” Hughes said. “From college kids all the way up to women in their 50s and 60s, we hit that in-between market.”
Tracy Whitlock, Forever Young Boutique customer and Ball State parent, visited the shop during Ball State’s family weekend while strolling through downtown Muncie and “fell in love with the atmosphere.”
“The store was really cute and organized with friendly staff,” Whitlock said, and she “can’t wait” until she visits Muncie again to shop more at the boutique.
“My shopping trip was brief, but I’ll definitely go back when I’m in Muncie again to see what cute things they have,” Whitlock said.
In addition to her storefront, Hughes has made an effort to reach out to the community through her partnership with Thrive Credit Union in Muncie, which began in 2016. Because Hughes saw how much the credit union appreciated small businesses, she said she wanted to work with Thrive in an effort to promote smaller storefronts in the district, including Forever Young.
Brittany Richards, vice president of marketing and branch operations at Thrive Credit Union, recalled the first event Forever Young Boutique hosted when the boutique opened at its original location on Charles Street — the “Milk and Cookies with Santa” event in 2016.
Richards said she and her co-workers would bring Santa and cookies into Forever Young Boutique to read stories to Hughes’ customers while they shopped in the store. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, this specific holiday event became a tradition each year. Richards said her collaboration with Hughes has been a fantastic journey, even with the store’s recent expansion.
“It left smiles on a lot of faces,” Richards said.
Richards said she saw a light in Hughes that continues to shine bright within the downtown area. Because of Hughes’ childhood roots in and around Delaware County, Richards loves seeing the dedication Hughes has put into the same place she calls home.
“It’s really nice to see a Muncie native invest back into their community like Amanda has,” Richards said. “She always finds ways to give back.”
With racks full of casual clothing, dressing rooms open and the sound of pop music echoing throughout the spacious boutique, Hughes said she is elated to keep Muncie’s downtown district forever young.
“Seeing downtown thrive makes me happy,” Hughes said.
Contact Grace Bentkowski with comments at [email protected].