Vanessa Gonzalez is in the front window of her new shop, Anoria Boutique, dressing a couple of mannequins.
She apologizes because her display is not finished; she likes to have everything perfect at all times.
She didn’t close the shop until 11:30 last night because some customers came in at the last minute for party dresses. They bought two in the window.
She’s replacing them with a long, lacy black gown and a delicate, diaphanous beaded 1920s-meets-2020s dress whose glitter is made for the dance floor.
When she’s done, she steps back to survey her work with a critical eye.
Vanessa, who opened Anoria in April, runs the seven-day-a-week boutique all by herself.
“I do it with love,” the 24-year-old says. “And when you do it with love, it’s not a burden. I wake up eager to start each day.”
Even, she adds, when those days don’t end until 11:30 p.m.
Vanessa, who was born in Veracruz, Mexico, and came to Astoria with her older brother to join her mother when she was 6, is used to hard work.
She got her first job – busing tables at a local eatery – when she was 16.
“Mama’s a single mother,” she says. “We lived with my grandmother in Mexico until she had enough money to send for us. Because I was so young, I don’t remember anything about that country.”
After graduating from P.S. 85, I.S. 141 and the Academy for Careers in Television & Film, Vanessa enrolled at the University of Hawaii Maui College with the idea of pursuing a career in the hospitality industry.
It was a long way from home, but “I was DACA, and Hawaii was one of the few states that allowed Dreamers to pay the much-cheaper in-state tuition if they could prove they lived there,” she says.
Paying her way through school “was really hard. I worked two retail jobs – at Macy’s and at Guess,” she says.
Ultimately, she left the university after only two years and returned to Astoria, taking a retail job with the military aviation-inspired apparel brand Top Gun at Queens Center then with a shop in SoHo.
The goal, even at that time, was to open her own clothing store.
“I love to see how clothes make people feel good,” she says, taking a frilly and flamboyant orange gown from the rack and holding it up to the mirror. “This is particularly important as we come out of the pandemic; women can come in here and find a pretty dress and face the world again.”
Anoria – the word is a combination of her mother’s and her grandmother’s first names and just happens to sound like and rhyme with Astoria – is a pandemic baby.
“Like a lot of people, I lost my job during covid,” Vanessa says. “So I started selling clothing my family made. We also began making face masks, which were in short supply at the time.”
Later, she expanded her sales items to include clothing made by Mexican artisans working in traditional styles.
“I realized that these makers were selling the clothing they made for food,” she says. “It broke my heart.”
Vanessa decided to find a way to help them.
“The idea of opening a store seemed so out of reach, especially during covid,” she says. “But I figured that I’d already lost everything, what more could I have to lose?”
The space practically fell into her hands – she spotted a “for rent” sign in the window.
“I’m grateful that the landlord decided to take a chance on me,” she says, adding that her mother and brother have moved into the apartment upstairs.
Her original concept was to stock Anoria exclusively with one-of-a-kind handmade items, everything from beaded jewelry, handwoven dresses and painted shawls to dolls and ceramic vases, from Mexico.
“I believe in fair trade and sharing art,” she says. “But I don’t make a profit on the handmade items, so I’ve added brand-name items to the shop. Anoria is not about getting rich; it’s about connecting with people.”
Sourcing the items was simple: Her mother and grandmother, who are artisans, have an extensive network of peers who are seeking buyers.
“I’m also doing this because I want to keep the local traditions alive,” Vanessa says. “Many of these skills are being lost.”
Anoria isn’t the only big change in Vanessa’s life. Recently, she got engaged.
Her fiancé, Edwin DeJesus Jr., ran on the Green Party ticket in the District 22 City Council race.
“He was my best friend in high school,” she says, adding that they hope to marry next year. “We started dating after I came back from Hawaii.”
Anoria has proved more successful than Vanessa envisioned, and she’s so thankful for the neighborhood’s support that she wants to add works by local artists.
“I will, of course, always carry the handmade Mexican works because they represent my heritage,” she says.
She smiles and gets ready to greet the first customer of the day.
Copyright 2021 by Nancy A. Ruhling