It’s a new season. The virus that has kept us at bay from one another seems at last to be easing, and spring is just around the corner.
In this time of renewal, Sally Jo Ocasio is especially grateful.
Ocasio owns The Vault, a vintage shop in downtown Ridgway. She’d just relocated her business to a building on Clinton Street last December when it was consumed by fire.
“Horrible,” Ocasio recalled. “I’d taken over the lease on December 2, moved everything in, set it all up, and was open for business for two days.”
The fire started in the early morning of Dec. 16. “Thank goodness nobody was in there,” Ocasio recalled.
Descending into town from her home above, in Elk Meadows, “you could see the flames. It was really traumatic. Thank God nobody was in the building.”
The inspector for Ocasio’s business-insurance policy “has said his belief is that the fire was caused by a propane leak,” she said.
“I was going to wait, and do online sales.”
Then two things happened.
Unbeknownst to Ocasio, Erin Graham, owner of the local office supply store, started a GoFundMe campaign to save The Vault.
“It filled my heart with enormous gratitude,” Ocasio told a business reporter from CNN, who covered the story in a January roundup about friends stepping in to help local businesses.
“So I knew: People did want The Vault,” she said. “And then a couple of months later, Susan Baker approached me. She said she was ready to retire,” and (once restrictions lifted) “to travel.”
Baker is the owner of Ridgway’s longstanding, much-loved emporium Lupita’s Bizarre Bazaar, which boasts a vast assortment of whimsical, unusual and beautiful items, from weavings to kitchenware, artworks, candles and cards.
“She’s the best,” Ocasio said of Baker. “I’m so incredibly grateful for this opportunity.” When bad things happen, “I know it’s a cliché, but it always does work out.”
Indeed, Baker and Ocasio seem two-of-a-mind: sunny personalities inspired by the transition between Lupita’s and the new shop.
Ocasio plans to move in to Lupita’s redubbed The Vault by late April. “I’ll keep, first of all, the textiles,” she said, which Susan sources from her travels to Mexico. And where else do you find the perfect card? To that she plans to add vintage artwork, and items of clothing. “Everybody should be able to have a beautiful item of clothing to wear” for not too much money, she observed, and there are “lots of consigners” in places such as Telluride and Ridgway who can help make this happen.
On Thursday afternoon at Lupita’s, Ocasio told this reporter, “I’m so excited” about the transition, and Baker chimed in, “I’m so excited.”
A pair of shoppers — regulars, it turned out — looked on in consternation. Although Ocasio and Baker were both speaking through masks, the message, it seemed, was loud and clear.
“I have to know what you’re excited about,” Ridgway resident Rosine Okie said. “Please promise me you’re not closing the store.”
Baker assured them the store is going nowhere, that it will only be recalibrated, to reflect Ocasio’s taste. Rick Okie, Rosine’s husband, professed relief.
“This place is sort of like a magic box,” he said. “If you need a particular, quirky item, you will always find it. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, it will come to you.”
It sounded rather like the newfound friendship between Ocasio and Baker. “I’ve been here 31 years,” Baker said. “It’s such a perfect exchange, to be able to offer this space to Sally. Everyone loves her.”
Lupita’s Bizarre Bazaar, located at 380 Sherman Street, is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The store will be renamed The Vault in late April.