Restaurant closure opens door for gallery expansion

Attic Gallery to move into Happy Island’s downtown Camas space Nov. 1

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Maria Gonser stands behind her desk at the Attic Gallery. An upcoming addition will nearly double the size of the downtown Camas space.

The light above Attic Gallery co-owner Maria Gonser’s desk is out, but she doesn’t have time to worry about that right now — not when her already-lengthy project list just got a lot longer.

In early October, the Camas gallery’s next-door neighbor, Chinese restaurant Happy Island, will close its doors after nearly two decades in business at its prime Northeast Cedar Street location, between Northeast Fourth and Fifth avenues in the heart of downtown Camas.

On Nov. 1, the space falls into the hands of Gonser, her husband, Tommer, and mother, Diann Faville, and gives Attic Gallery a chance to grow.

Gonser said all three are happy about the future gallery expansion, but no one is as excited as Faville, who started the gallery out of her Southwest Portland attic in 1973, and moved to Camas in December 2015.

“She is chomping at the bit,” Gonser said, of her mother’s enthusiasm over the new gallery space. “I mean, we all are. It has so many possibilities.”

Turning a restaurant into a gallery doesn’t happen overnight, however. Gonser hopes to open the addition by the new year. That would give the gallery owners a sense of coming full-circle in just three years, from the gallery’s first Camas ribbon-cutting in January 2016 to the newly expanded Attic Gallery ribbon-cutting in January 2019.

Between painting, deep-cleaning and the creation of an opening between the two spaces on the south wall, Tommer — Gonser’s go-to handyman — will be busy.

Once everything is cleared out, Gonser sees a handful of opportunities for the new square footage. The space they occupied in downtown Portland, prior to the Camas move, was 6,500 square feet. Downsizing to their current 2,350-square-foot space, was an adjustment for the gallery veterans. For one thing, the smaller space meant work spilled over into Gonser’s home.

“I was doing framing orders, and I was doing quite a few, and then just driving them home,” she said. “Now we can do it here, which is what we did downtown (in Portland) for years and years.”

Taking over the Happy Island property will add 2,250 square feet to the Attic Gallery, bringing the space up to 4,600 square feet — not as big as the Portland location, but big enough to host more events and bring in local and outside artists for workshops or presentations.

Aside from making room for framing and design services in-house, Gonser said the expansion will give Attic Gallery extra storage space and the ability to spread the artwork out a bit more.

Enamored with her new options, Gonser even mused that the gallery might be able to serve coffee at some point.

For the moment, the gallery owners will start with soap and elbow grease.

Management at Happy Island declined to comment for this story, but did confirm the restaurant is closing.

Although the restaurant’s closure is good news for Attic Gallery, Gonser said she is stymied by what led to the restaurant owners’ decision to shut down.

“They do really good takeout. A lot of people love it. I was kind of surprised,” Gonser said. “People are constantly going there, and people do like it, so I don’t know why (Happy Island is closing).”

Although Gonser worries some Camas locals will be disappointed when they walk through the doors hoping for General Tso’s chicken or Szechuan eggplant, she believes many others will be pleasantly surprised by the new art offerings and gallery expansion.

“I know a lot of people are going to go, ‘Ugh, where’s the Chinese restaurant?'” she said. “But some people will say, ‘Yay, more art!’ “