Orange Blossom Cottage
May 27, 2016 02:36PM
By Ronda Alvey
By Jordan Venema
Photo: Tamara Orth
Take a five-minute drive outside Porterville, and if you know where to look, you’ll find a small boutique in the middle of a ranch surrounded by orange trees. Its location already makes Orange Blossom Cottage a unique shopping experience, but owner Maribel Menna believes their goods are what really sets them apart.
“Orange Blossom is a vintage store, an accommodation of new and old, and we’ve created an element of style for people to decorate their homes. There’s probably four or five different styles in here,” says Menna.
Menna is talking about the Cottage’s eclectic collection of home furnishings – repurposed, reclaimed, refinished – ranging in style from industrial to shabby chic and French country to vintage farm.
Like most cottages, Orange Blossom is cozy, so the goal is to focus on quality over quantity. “Yeah, bringing quality into the store is something we aim for,” Menna says.
She speaks like a seasoned retailer, but it was only two years ago that she even began to think about opening a shop.
“Honestly, I thought we were crazy,” says Menna. “My first thought was, ‘What am I doing? I don’t know anything about this. I know nothing about running a store, let alone owning a store.’”
It wasn’t just that Menna was venturing into a totally new business, but she also had a full-time job as manager for a field and grower service company, working with citrus growers.
“But I used to shop at this place called La Vintage Rue,” a Porterville boutique, which Menna loved. In November 2013, she was shopping in La Vintage Rue when “the lady who ran the store, Donna, says, ‘Maribel, you should buy the store.’”
Donna planted a seed that Menna soon began to tend. She approached her best friend, Karrie Batchelor, and asked, “How do you feel about opening a store?”
Karrie, who also works with citrus growers, simply asked how they’d find the time. “We’ll find it,” Menna replied.
She laughs describing her relationship with Karrie, who usually voices caution while Menna runs wild with ideas. The two complement each other, though Menna says she couldn’t have made the shop work without Karrie. “She’s my biggest cheerleader and supporter.”
As Menna explored the idea of buying La Vintage Rue, she began thinking of other possibilities. She had friends who for years had been begging her to do something with an abandoned building on their ranch – turn it into a fruit stand, anything. “It was wasted space and no one was doing anything with it,” Menna says, so after thinking about that property, she called her friends and proposed she turn it into a store.
“That’s when Orange Blossom started, and Donna is the reason. Walking into La Vintage Rue that day, Donna talking to me, it inspired me,” says Menna.
Orange Blossom Cottage opened in June 2014, taking the name from the surrounding orange orchards. Cottage was Donna’s idea, who had come to work with Menna.
“Without her guidance,” Menna says of Donna, “I wouldn’t have done this, because honestly I didn’t know anything about the business.” Donna taught Menna about different styles of décor, and how to create vignettes, “basically how to put things together.” With Donna’s help, Menna learned the ropes of going to shows and working with other retailers. “She takes care of us girls,” Menna says.
With such a busy schedule, it is somewhat surprising that Menna would even want to start a second business. “I think it goes back to my family history. They used to have a produce business many years ago, and I always miss that.”
When Orange Blossom Cottage opened in 2014, Menna admits she wasn’t as prepared as she would have liked to be, but a near-tragedy in 2015 actually gave Menna an opportunity to open the store a second time.
Like anybody who works in the citrus industry, Menna knows how much damage hail can do to an orange. So when a hailstorm struck Porterville in May 2015, she began checking on her clients’ fields, without a second thought to Orange Blossom Cottage.
“That was the last thing on my mind,” Menna says. Of all the things that could go wrong with her business – bankruptcy, fire, theft, you name it – hail had never entered the equation.
So when she got the call that hail had clogged the gutters and water began pouring through the roof into the shop, Menna rushed to salvage what she could.
“It was one of the most devastating things to walk in – honestly I didn’t know what to believe. I thought the whole building was going to collapse.”
Menna made calls, and within 20 minutes help had arrived – her family, husband, Karrie, and other friends. “We had about 12 people moving everything out of the way, and we only lost a couple tables. That’s it,” says Menna.
“We had two options then. Either this was a sign to get out, not to do this anymore, or we come back stronger.”
Menna, Karrie, and Donna came back stronger. They upped their decorations and merchandise, “and we brought in gas pumps and Coca-Cola machines, you know, to make it a little more country,” says Menna.
Menna was disappointed that Orange Blossom was closed for repairs during its one-year anniversary, but its reopening two months later provided a second chance to do things the second time the way she would have liked to do them the first. It was a second start.
Though it’s unlikely she’d want to go through another hailstorm to learn any more lessons. She, Karrie and Donna are happy to sell their respective goods by consignment, and thank their customers for keeping them afloat. Says Menna, “without them and without God, we don’t exist.”
Orange Blossom Cottage • 1018 West Teapot Dome, Porterville
(559) 781-1400 • Wednesday-Sunday: 11am-5pm
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