Ellen Fanale wasn’t happy after moving to Camas from southern California in 2013. Dealing with Type 1 diabetes and other illnesses, she refused to get out of bed on most days. She stayed only because her husband, Sal, said he didn’t want to move again.
“I was miserable here,” Fanale said.
But her life changed for the better after Fanale opened My Mother’s Closets, a vintage store in Washougal, on Oct. 11. By doing so, she rediscovered the passion, motivation and inspiration she had lacked since moving to Camas.
“I was spending six days a week in bed,” she said. “Now I spend six days a week in the store. (I’m not doing it for) a dollar reward, because there are many things in life that I could do. I always said I had a purpose in life and I hadn’t found it yet. I’m beginning to think this could be my final purpose in retirement, the culmination.”
The store, which is located at 3018 Evergreen Way and open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Monday, features a variety of collectibles, toys, seasonal items, dishware, furniture, jewelry, clothes, hats, purses, books and music.
“(I have) good merchandise at fair prices,” Fanale said. “Many people have said, ‘We like the idea that there’s a more upscale kind of store in Washougal.’ I think old things have a spirit to them, and I love what they have to offer. They’re different. They’re heartier. They’re better. The more crazy and unique, the better I like it. People are looking, and I’m hoping they come back when they realize that they can’t get some of these things anywhere else.”
“It’s new, and to me it’s fresh – I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Vancouver resident Wendy Goodin, who is assisting Fanale with store duties. “I think it’s awesome that she’s doing it and working it and trying to get people used to vintage instead of brand-new and manufactured. It’s just something a lot of people haven’t seen.”
Fanale has purchased some of the items on consignment from local residents, but most of the store’s offerings come from her vast personal collection.
“My mother had a 30,000-square-foot warehouse in New York – three buildings, three stories, double ceilings,” Fanale said. “(By the time she died in 2000), she had also filled a 3,000-square-foot warehouse and two houses, but not as a hoarder. She was a very good buyer. She would open stores, and she didn’t like people, so she would close her stores. And then she would just move it all.”
In 2007, Fanale, who moved to southern California when she was 18, returned to New York at the request of her brothers, who needed her assistance to empty the buildings of their contents. Fanale sold some of the items, packed the rest into a couple moving vans and returned to California with the intention of opening a vintage store. That idea didn’t come to fruition.
“So, this has been a bucket-list item for (a long time),” said Fanale, who worked as a certified public accountant and math teacher in the Los Angeles area before moving to Camas.
Fanale’s vision was to create an open, welcoming environment without the trappings of a traditional antique market.
“I’d like it to be a place where people can come and hang on my couch,” she said. “I didn’t want it to be like a Target with aisles and cabinets in the middle. I wanted it to be more like Robinsons-May where people could sit and have a cup of coffee. The general store (from) the 1960s is kind of how I see it, only with a warmth.”
“I had a lady come in who was just kind of sad, and said that I warmed her heart. That is what I wanted,” she continued. “Then there was a lady who wrote in my (guest) book, ‘It feels like I’m on vacation when I’m sitting here.’ Every now and then I get words from people that are exactly what this place was supposed to be.”
Fanale wants to use her space to display and sell the work of local artists. She also hopes that her store can serve as a community gathering place and event hub. She’s already succeeded in that endeavor – a local Girl Scout troop is planning to hold a Santa Claus photo event at the store soon.
Fanale hopes to eventually host craft activities and provide math tutoring services for children.
“The purpose of the store is to break even. If the store can break even, I can do all the things that I want to do with the community,” she said. “I really miss being with the children; I didn’t know how much until I was away from it. I love doing crafts, and I’m a very good tutor.
“You look at what you choose to do in life – not what you get paid for, but what you choose,” she continued. “I chose children. I chose crafts. I chose tutoring. I chose to sit with people and talk to people and get to know them. So far, I’m (seeing) that this can definitely be all that.”