Wandering Soul Boutique a Hot Spot for Fashionable Finds

Mar 21, 2018
Photo by: Victoria Ford

Wandering Soul, a retail clothing boutique in the heart of Surf City, represents not only the cutting edge of style and comfort, but also a renewal of purpose for owners Lori and Joe Gagliardi of Manahawkin.

The shop’s first season in business was 2014. The couple moved to Manahawkin from New York in 2000, with three young kids (and two already grown, so they have five altogether), upon Joe’s retirement from the Fire Department of New York. Lori had been a hair technician before they relocated. The Island had always had sentimental meaning to them because 25 years ago, while sitting at Shuck’s Clam Bar at the Surf City Hotel, they had decided to elope; and later, they vacationed with the kids in Beach Haven West. In Manahawkin, they started their contracting business.

After raising the kids, the family got some scary news: a breast cancer diagnosis that would consume a year of their lives and result in a bilateral mastectomy for Lori in addition to harsh treatments. During that time, she said, her only thoughts were of getting through each day. But when she came out on the other side, she realized, “You just have to move on.” The thing to do, she decided, was to celebrate survival and live life.

“I wanted to do something,” she said, so the Gagliardis drove up and down the Island looking for rental opportunities. When they found the space in the little strip between 17th and 18th streets in Surf City, they just knew it was the right fit. “So we said, ‘Let’s go for it.’”

At this point in their careers, a women’s clothing store represents a lighter, simpler lifestyle. “Fashion makes people happy,” Lori said. What woman doesn’t love to feel pretty in something new?

One of the greatest joys of the job is getting to know the customers. Women come in, either on their own or in little groups; maybe they’re on vacation, so they’re in a good mood, and they want to talk. The personal sharing “makes life interesting,” Lori said.

Make no mistake, “retail therapy” is a real thing. But even more than shopping, what the retail industry is really about is people.

Lori keeps her eyes open for clothing that is soft, comfy, beach-y. Vacationers don’t want to see the same things they see in the stores they have at home, she explained. At the shore, people reinvent themselves, or bring out the side of themselves they don’t get to indulge in their everyday lives.

As far as trends go, her racks reflect a lot of billow-y pieces – blouses, over-layers and cover-ups, dresses and skirts – in muted tones and feminine prints.

“It’s all over (the map),” she said. It’s not like years ago, when the looks were dominated by a certain skirt length or style of top. She also strives to satisfy customers of all ages, so mothers and daughters can shop together and both go home happy. She keeps a front table stocked with the most current items, rotated regularly to keep customers coming back to see what’s new.

The big names right about now, for looks and high quality, are Vintage Havana and Surf Gypsy, she said.

Lori and Joe go to trade shows together to stay on top of the trends and to continue to cultivate relationships with colleagues in the industry.

“You learn a lot from year to year,” she said. “It’s always changing.” But one thing she has learned that never changes: Being down-to-earth and real with people never goes out of style.

— Victoria Ford

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