Life is all the richer because everyone dreams a different dream.
As a sous chef in Grand Junction, Colorado, Paula Pinero loved the high energy of the restaurant world, took pride in her clean kitchen and knew the business at all levels of service.
“I didn’t go to college or anything. So, first I was a waitress, then I started dishwashing, then I moved up to prep, then I moved up to cooking. Basically, it’s all I knew.”
But away from the kitchen, Paula had another passion: thrift stores.
“It goes back to me and my mom. We were thrift store junkies. Yard sale junkies. And I mean buy and buy and buy and buy! I said, ‘one of these days we’re going to have to open up a store’ because we had so much stuff,” she remembers, eyes shining. “I guess nobody knew about hoarding back then. They’d probably call us hoarders now.”
In fact, she tried making a go of it in Grand Junction. She opened a thrift store of her own. Separately, so did her mom. For some reason, they didn’t do it together.
Paula’s little store went under. Her mom’s store did a bit better.
But somewhere along the way, the two had a falling out, and they didn’t talk for a long time.
Other changes were happening, too.
“I just couldn’t do the pressure of the line cooking anymore.”
So she took her skills and started cooking in hospitals and then nursing homes. The thrift store dream still tugged at her heart. In an ideal world, she and her husband Paul would have a thrift store, with an apartment attached, all under one roof. But that was just a dream.
As the distance between Paula and her mom grew, the residents at the nursing home filled a void. She was more than a cook. She was a friend, a confidant, a constant presence. She remembers the birthday party of a woman who turned a joyful and sprite 103 years old. She remembers World War II vets. She remembers the guilt she felt as she snuck a cigarette out back and was gleefully joined by a 90 year-old smoker who’d been looking for Paula’s nicotine place of escape. The residents, their stories and the relationships gave Paula a sense of connection where there was one gaping hole in her life.
Then one day things started to turn around. Her mom was in a better place.
“We started talking again, and we started shopping! She started perking up. You know, there was a REASON to get up in the morning. A REASON…
“And then, I don’t know why it happened. I guess God took her for a reason…”
Paula’s strong exterior gave way to tears.
“We were talking about opening a store and doing, you know, business together. A thrift store — then she just died.
“Everything for me went down hill from there. So I said, ‘screw Colorado’, let’s just get the heck out and just go.”
Paul’s brother-in-law had always talked about Arizona.
“We just packed the car up and came out here to Cottonwood. We were looking for places to live, and it was like God took us right here.”
Reluctantly, they called on a charming little corner property. Located right on the scenic highway stretching through the picturesque town, surely it was out of their price range. Surely it was not really available.
It was in their price range. And it was available. And oh, it has a little apartment attached in back. No longer just the cute fixer-upper. Now it proudly bears the sign “Paula’s Attic”.
“It’s a thrift store-slash-treasure chest! And it’s mine!”
Her husband Paul is a contractor and has been helping shape the store into their collective dream place.
“Sometimes a song will come on that we love,” says Paula, “and we just run out here and grab each other and dance.
“We have our little store! We have our little store!
“If someone comes in, we look at each other and say ‘can you believe this has happened?’
“I’m not a millionaire. But it isn’t about the money. It’s about the dream and the journey.”
Of course the only piece missing is Paula’s mom.
“Sometimes I dream about her for days and days and days. And we’re always in a thrift store.
“Maybe she left for a reason. To push me here. Because if she hadn’t, I wouldn’t have left. I think she’s here in the thrift store. I think she’d be smiling down on me right now.”