Hillsboro seamstress finds hope and help after devastating downtown fire
Five months after starting her own business, Lucia Nguyen’s phone rang.
Nguyen was late for church that Sunday morning. The call was from a friend who owned a business above Nguyen’s clothing store.
“She called me and she was like, ‘Hey, did you hear what happened?’ and I was like, no, what are you talking about?” Nguyen said. “She tells me that the Weil Arcade is on fire and everything is destroyed.
Instead of turning around and heading for the fire, a shocked Nguyen continued on his way to the church.
“I went inside and said to our church leaders and our pastors, ‘Hey, my building is on fire,'” he said. “Everybody froze, and we all got together, and they started praying for me. I was still shaking and very moved. “
When she finally arrived at the store, her devastated mother collapsed in her arms.
“I was trying to be strong, and I wasn’t trying to fall apart. I was trying to tell her, ‘Hey, it’s okay. We’re going to move on,’ because she had also invested there- in it,” Nguyen said, “She and my brother. They helped me little by little to be able to have something.”
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Nguyen knew she wanted to own her own business after graduating from high school.
After a year at Portland Community College, she considered following her family legacy. As a child, her mother owned a store full of wedding dresses, ball gowns, and quinceañera dresses. She turned to her mother for advice.
Nguyen’s mother told him that the best way to open a business was to do so without debt. At 19, Nguyen decided to work for three years and focus on saving money. During that time, she saved $100,000, and by the time she opened her store, she didn’t have to take out a loan.
His mother and brother helped provide elbow grease. As a family, they demolished the walls, laid the floors and repainted the store. They made everything perfect for the grand opening on August 14, 2021.
“My former primary school principal, who is the mayor, was there to cut the ribbon for me,” Nguyen said. It was a really special moment.
People don’t wear formal dresses every day. When they do, that day is all about that person or someone they love.
Nguyen sells dresses for all major stages in someone’s life.
“Sometimes there are tears that flow and family members are also there to live this moment. And to see them like, ‘Oh my God, you’re so gorgeous,'” Nguyen said, “…when they come out of the dressing room, you hear the gasps of the entourage who are there to see the dress. ”
Investigators say the Weil Arcade fire, which dates back more than a century and was home to at least eight businesses, was intentionally started. Hillsboro resident Roel Leon was charged with arson in the case.
Even businesses not directly affected by the fires have been impacted. Downtown business owner Shana Nelson and her partner Eric Milavetz own Arcade 2084, a 1980s-themed arcade and bar, located across the street. They noticed a significant slowdown in traffic.
“About 70% of our customers are new customers,” Nelson said. “And when new customers can’t find us because they can’t drive down the street…it’s had a drastic effect on our business, even though we haven’t had any smoke or water damage. .”
On the day of the fire, the Hillsboro Downtown Partnership provided Nguyen with temporary space. According to Elisa Joy Payne, executive director of the partnership, Hillsboro’s commitment to nurturing young business owners is how its downtown remains vibrant in the era of big box stores.
Nguyen’s temporary space is just around the corner from his burned-out storefront.
As she passes the ruins of the Weil Arcade, pain mingles with gratitude.
“I’m really grateful to the Hillsboro community,” Nguyen said. They’ve worked like crazy, like uninterrupted volunteer hours to make sure people are placed in a space where they can still function.
Nguyen hopes to not only rebuild, but expand his business. And whether it’s her mentors, her faith community, or her family, she knows she won’t have to do it alone.