There are some stores that you go to, and some stores you travel to. Madeline’s Vintage Marketplace in Tillamook, Oregon happens to be both. Farmhouse, vintage, French, chippy and chic are all adjectives that would suit Madeline’s, right between the handmade signs and refinished furniture. What started out as a hobby in Jennifer Robtisch’s garage—turning forgotten and worn out pieces into beautiful treasures—has expanded into a 900-square-foot store in downtown Tillamook. I went to Madeline’s one morning, an hour before opening, to talk to Jennifer about her store’s beginnings and her vision for the future.
While we chatted, Jennifer kept herself busy around her shop, arranging items and getting ready for the day. In September of 2010, when her daughter visited Jennifer in Seattle, they went to a downtown vintage market. After they saw some adorable handmade signs, they quickly realized they could duplicate them without too much effort. Jennifer started “picking” furniture to refinish, then turning around and selling them at the Freemont market. She worked full time during the week, then occasionally co-hosted a booth at the Seattle Sunday market.
When she visited Bay City, Oregon a couple years later for her daughter’s bridal shower, she stopped in Vintage by the Bay, a multi-vendor indoor market that sells a neat collection of vintage furniture, odds ’n ends and clothing. Jennifer decided to rent a spot in their store and return once a month to work her shift as per the shop’s agreement with their vendors. After making that trek for a year and a half, she decided to move back to Tillamook for her granddaughter’s birth and a three-month business stint. Jennifer ended up talking with two women who had recently sold their restaurant business and were doing the same hobby—refinishing furniture in their garages. They teamed up and hosted a booth at the holiday bazaar. They had so much fun that one of them suggested they buy their own downtown space. They quickly put plans in place and opened a small retail shop on Black Friday in 2013. When their six-month lease ended, they concluded they needed a larger space. Unfortunately, Jennifer’s two partners had to return to their previous business, but she went ahead and opened her shop right next to their restaurant.
Eventually, her business grew to the point of needing an even larger space, and so she and her new partners moved to their current location. With a little love and a lot of hard work, they transformed the former bank building and current art space into the perfect venue. They tore out the carpet and freshened up the building, from the original flooring to the antique light fixtures. Then they filled the space with a variety of vintage items and farmhouse goods.
Jennifer has a knack for seeing the potential of worn-out and abused items. When she started her business, she used only repurposed, uncycled and “found” items—nothing new. Her favorite activity is discovering something worn out, but with good bones, and then giving it new life.
Jennifer has many devoted customers not only from nearby towns, but from Forest Grove, Hillsboro and even from Sherwood. Some make the trip to the coast just to visit Madeline’s. As our interview passed opening time, I watched Jennifer interact with a customer from out of town. As they chatted about refinishing furniture, she gladly shared her knowledge and techniques with her new—and probably now loyal—customer.
Madeline’s has a distinct French feeling. Jennifer knew when she opened that she wanted to give her shop a feminine name. At first, she had thought about calling it Paizley’s Place after her granddaughter but she and her partner settled on Madeline’s on Main Street. When they relocated, they changed the name to Madeline’s Vintage Marketplace, and eventually shortened it to Madeline’s. Jennifer wanted customers to feel like they were browsing in a kind of “Audrey Hepburn-esque” store, or that her shop was right out of the children’s book Madeline—and that if you wore red lipstick, you’d feel right at home.
Before we concluded our interview, I asked her about her favorite reads and eats. Jennifer loves a good romance novel and enjoys picking up books at garage sales. It’s very rare that she doesn’t finish a book. When I asked her about her favorite spots to eat, she mentioned The Blue Agate in Oceanside, Hawk Creek Café in Neskowin, and when she visits her old stomping grounds in Seattle, she dines at Cactus Restaurant in Alki Beach.
When asked about plans for the future, Jennifer responded by revisiting the past. She loves Tillamook and remembers what downtown looked like when she was a child: bustling, busy, and particularly special during the holiday seasons. She works in her shop because she likes her customers to have that same small-town feeling—of knowing the business owners and shopping small. She still does projects in her garage, spends time with her granddaughters, and is involved with her parents who live across the street from her.
Her big dream? She loves the idea of having a small area for children’s boutique clothing. But ultimately, she wants to open a small coffee and bicycle shop right next to Madeline’s where customers can grab a savory scone and have their bikes tuned-up by her partner.