By david hayes
DALLAS — It’s become a tale all too common in the age of the coronavirus pandemic. A new business opens then is shuttered a couple months later due to safety restrictions.
While many businesses never recovered from the lockdowns, the Rusty Gate’s story is one of perseverance.
Owner Hazleyn Martin, 67, celebrated the Dallas store’s second anniversary Oct. 30, attributing its success to help from her husband, John, her vendors and all her loyal customers from a community that has embraced her vision from the start.
A former vendor herself, Martin had been in furniture sales the previous five or six years, while living down at the beach town of Manzanita, Oregon, offering upcycled and repurposed items. But something was missing.
“I’d never been a store owner. It’s been a lifetime dream,” Martin said. “When I retired, I started my dream.”
Before pursuing that dream, she got a co-passenger for the ride. She met John, a carpenter by trade, about eight years ago, learning along the way they’d grown up in the same town – The Dalles, Oregon – and that he’d once played on the same Little League baseball team as her brother.
“My husband has really supported all that I have done,” Martin said. “So that really helps a lot. He comes in and works once in a while. We’re newlyweds still, at 3 ½ years. That’s been really nice.”
Looking for a base of operations for her dream shop, Martin settled on Dallas as a mid-point between her daughter in Newberg and her sister in West Salem.
“I didn’t want to live on top of either of them. So, we found a place we really liked,” Martin said.
Naming the store was easy – after her favorite color, rust.
“We love to upcycle and repurpose and do things. I’m an out-of-the-box kind of thinker. I’m always doing something a little to the left of the way people usually do things,” Martin explained.
Martin said she’ll look anywhere for those items to repurpose.
“I’ve been known to climb in rafters, barns, and in this area, people are always saying, ‘Oh, why don’t you come out and see if there’s anything you like.’ I’ve made some really good friends that why. Just started digging through their barn and I’ve loved it. Put on my boots and I’m ready to go,” Martin said.
John gets in on a lot of the repurposing projects, as he got his own start making barnwood furniture, from tables to bunkbeds.
Martin downsized her stores of finds from five storage lockers to just one – albeit a 1,200-square foot space across the street from Rusty Gate. If a customer can’t find what they’re looking for in a home project, she’ll take them out to the “honey hole” and likely find it there.
So, two years ago, they opened the day before Halloween, unaware of the scares coming their way in just a few months. When they got closed down by COVID, Martin did what she does best – got creative.
“We sold stuff online, provided pickup at the door and allowed individual shopping, one person in the store at a time. So, we were creative enough to stay afloat,” Martin said. “And I have the world’s best landlords. Peter, he helped me a lot, he’s a great a guy, and Karen. They blessed us beyond what I can image.”
In addition to the Rusty Gate, Martin also pursues her second love – interior design. Her girl friend of 65 years (yes, the math doesn’t add up) said Martin was always rearranging their rooms growing up. So, it was nothing new to lend her eye for interiors to others.
“I do some interior design for a couple clients. Do a one-room makeover for free, help you use what you’ve got. Then see what we’ve got to enhance what you have,” Martin said. “But your home is a place you go to be safe and comfortable. That’s what I like to do is make people’s home comfortable for them.”
She said the typical customer at the Rusty Gate is someone who just wants to come in and look and see what they have.
“And then it just, kind of like when I go looking for stuff, it just happens. You find stuff or you put stuff together. A lot of times I’ll talk to people, see what they’re looking for,” Martin said.
She said Rusty Gate was heading in the right direction, up, before the shutdown.
She rotates the store’s inventory every month, keeping it fresh with the new and newly repurposed.
“That’s what I notice people say the most. Things always look different in here. Every fall I bring in a fireplace. Not normal to this building. Makes it look warm and cozy. Changing it up is a big thing, just to have a new look, and you know you do that in your own home,” she said.
While the look of autumn is still in, Martin is already planning for the next season. Her Christmas reveal is Nov. 9, when she’ll have the halls all decked.
“Everything will be all red and green and tinseled. It seems early to me. Poor Thanksgiving doesn’t get its fair shake. But you kind of have to jump on it, be ready for it,” Martin explained.
Martin admits it’s been a little slow since coming back. She even had her doubts about the store’s future prospects.
“There were many months, many months that I have been ready to throw in the towel. I don’t know, are we going to make it? Am I doing the right thing? I don’t’ know. I don’t know. We just kept going,” Martin recalled. “The thought of not having this is so overwhelming to me. It’s more overwhelming to not have it than to have it.”
The vendors who rent space out of Rusty Gate to sell their own wares helped encourage Martin to keep going. With them working so many days a month, that helps her also accomplish the things on her own to-do list. That’s why she’s sure the elements for success are still here.
“Our town people are really supportive of what we’re doing. They love that they can shop local, come support the local cottage industries. I’ve met so many wonderful people, even though I’m a newcomer,” Martin added.
The Rusty Gate
1284 SW Fairview Ave.
503-730-3002 or find the Rusty Gate on Facebook at https://bit.ly/3nPGirz