Bouncing Back After Tragedy: Welcome Home, Pacific Treasures
Anyone who has walked through Pacific Treasures will tell you that it is a treasure in itself, known for years by locals and tourists alike as the spot to shop. Stepping into the store, all are greeted with a cheerful hello from the staff, as well as a feast for the eyes and the senses. From the casually elegant chandeliers on the ceiling to the shelves and tables artfully stocked with home décor, cooking and baking equipment, gourmet foods, jewelry, clothing and accessories, it’s impossible not to feel enveloped in a cozy welcome. And, of course, everything available for purchase is perfect for gift giving and stocking one’s own abode.
The store is the creation of owner Michelle Wiebe Andrews, a Visalia native. She practically grew up on Main Street. Her father was a car dealer on Main at Bridge Street, and she hung out there all the time as a kid. It comes as no surprise, then, that her “hangout” for the last
28 years has been her shop, Pacific Treasures, which has lived in various locations on Main.
Pacific Treasures was not Wiebe’s first endeavor as an entrepreneur.
After studying at the Interior Designers Institute in Corona del Mar, she opened her own design business (even before she graduated), operating it for about four years. Her favorite thing about being an interior designer was the opportunity and challenge of asking her clients, “What is your favorite thing and what do you want to keep?” and then putting old and new together. She worked with many commercial clients, finding that more enjoyable because of the social aspect. It was energizing to be with people working in the businesses as she was working on their designs.
This lively environment (versus the amount of alone time involved in drawing up plans and researching textiles) resonated so much with Wiebe that she knew that she needed a new challenge – one that would combine the best of being social with designing, and that’s when Pacific Treasures was born.
But the name? Visalia isn’t near the coast. Wiebe laughed as she explained, “I’m an ocean girl and I love the ocean, so I wanted to include Pacific because of that. Then a friend and I were going through word lists and treasures popped up – Pacific Treasures ~ it just stuck!”
Her first tiny shop opened May 1, 1991, at 418 E. Main (now a parking lot). Through the years, Pacific Treasures has moved to other spots on Main, circling back to its newest location at 114 E. Main after being abruptly uprooted in the early morning hours of Dec. 26. Although this move was unplanned, Wiebe feels very fortunate to have landed here at her new site because “… after a tragedy like that happens, you don’t even know which end is up for a while – you can’t process that fast.”
By tragedy, Wiebe is referring to the massive three-alarm fire that raged along the 200 block of West Main. Several businesses were heavily damaged, affecting Mama K’s Diner, Café 225, Exotica Hair Studio, Acapulco Jewelers and Little Italy. Pacific Treasures sustained severe smoke and water damage that made it impossible to remain at that location.
Wiebe and her husband, Jack Andrews, got the call about 2:30 a.m. when firefighters opened the door to the store and set off the alarm. They raced to the scene, where they watched everything unfold. Once the flames were extinguished, they were allowed to enter the store, but even in the dark with limited visibility, Wiebe was able to take only a couple of steps in before turning back. The visual, along with the smell of smoke that filled the building, was literally too heartbreaking to take in.
Fast forward to the spring, with a soft opening at the new location on March 29 and a grand reopening with a huge turnout April 26. A fun evening to officially open the store was in reality a celebration of reaching this milestone. Wiebe and her dedicated, cheerful team are so happy to be on Main Street in this space that has turned out to be – in a nod to her beginnings as a designer – a perfect mix of old and new.
How did Wiebe bounce back? With a big smile that almost never leaves her face, she said, “I’m still bouncing – every day! I think I will be for a while. There are still a lot of aspects to go through. I have a wonderful husband who completely understands and has been by my side the entire time. He’s been our workhorse like no other; anything we’ve needed, he’s been right there. We love our Jack!”
Of great help was also the fortuitous – seemingly meant to be – way that the pieces fell into place at the new location. With the retirement of Marlene Sciacca, proprietor of the Chelsea Street Boutique scheduled for Dec. 31, just a few days after the fire, the space opened for Pacific Treasures to relocate. It made for a great transition for both women and the store.
In moving and preparing Pacific Treasures for reopening, Wiebe said the biggest challenge was remodeling and rebuilding an inventory in just two months for a store that had been open 28 years. Since the entire inventory was lost through smoke and water damage, this meant starting from nothing.
“The girls and I (including longtime employee and right arm Kathy Howerton) worked our tails off,” Wiebe said, ordering, shipping, decorating, unpacking and merchandising the inventory that customers are accustomed to seeing. This included brand favorites Sutter Buttes oils and vinegars, Lodge Cast Iron, Le Creuset and Swiss Diamond cookware, Jelly Bellys, Stonewall Kitchen and Rufus Teague foods and Jellycat for kids, among others. New brands have also been incorporated: Brighton was added, on Sciacca’s advice.
A whole new venture for Wiebe, she’s having fun with it, making her first official buying trip to Brighton’s Southern California factory in May. Shoppers will also find a selection of clothing and accessories emphasizing more of her personality: If she doesn’t love it, she doesn’t buy it for the store.
The biggest blessing through the whole experience? Without hesitation, Wiebe replied, “It’s been the loyal customers and friends who have followed us to our new location. We are so thankful and grateful to everyone in the community for being so kind, thoughtful and caring. And my staff – we made this happen all together, as a family.”
As a family, Wiebe, Jack and the staff gathered on Dec. 26 – the same day of the fire – for their annual Christmas party. They shared dinner on Main Street, posing for a group photo at the restaurant as they always do. On this night, though, they took one more photo to commemorate the evening – in front of the burned store.
“We have stuck together through this whole experience,” Wiebe said. And together they continue to settle in at their new home on Main, welcoming customers old and new into the Pacific Treasures family.