Tres Fabu: the end of an era

by Toby Cooper

Sounder contributor

For 24 years, Nikki Ames’ tuck-box boutique has delighted Eastsound’s residents and visitors with contemporary inventories of understated but elegant couture. The closing marks the end of an era for Eastsound and a bittersweet moment for Ames.

“It’s time,” she said, condensing a million memories into one incisive measurement.

Ames founded the shop in late 1998 after three years of selling a small line of custom-stitched hats. When Eastsound property owner Robin Woodward offered Ames space for a shop of her own, she initially said, “I don’t think I could make that many hats.” But Robin urged her to diversify. Ames demurred only one short night.

“I’ll do it,” she said the next morning, and so Tres Fabu was born.

The result has been a rewarding career in retail for Ames a tenaciously loyal base of customers throughout the region and beyond — some with two decades of customer allegiance — and an iconic landmark in Eastsound’s otherwise downbeat universe of fashion.

“I never had a clear vision,” said Ames of her early attempts to establish a brand. “The only way you can sell anything is if you love it. I just had to trust my eye and my intuition, day-by-day.” And because she trusted herself, the customers trusted her. A better formula for success cannot be found.

Some of the best customers come regularly, even in groups.

“We have troops of women who come to Orcas every year, some consistently the same week of the year,” says Ames, both mystified and gratified by the adoration of her following. “Tres Fabu is their first stop. Some come in every day of their stay.”

Still, she has not neglected the promotional side of her business. Tres Fabu is legendary for special events to keep its inventory moving, including discounted “First Friday Parties” every month, plus year-end sales.

In September of 1999, after barely a year in business, she held the first “Elwa Crash and Slash Sale” in response to the legendary ferry crash that wrecked the dock at Orcas Landing and isolated the island for months. It was so successful that she held repeat “Elwa” sales every Labor Day until the collective memory of the disaster finally faded.

Like Woodward, Eastsound’s Sue Kimball has been at Ames’ side throughout, and an essential part of the Tres Fabu legacy.

“It’s the best job I ever had,” she says with undisguised satisfaction.

Kimball formerly worked a stressful job for the San Juan County Prosecutor handling domestic violence and sexual assault cases. At the time, she wandered into Tres Fabu looking for a scarf. Ames was hiring.

“If you ever want a job, let me know,” she called out as Kimball was leaving. She took four steps out the door, then turned around and said, “I would,” and the next day started the “sweet glam job” that changed her life.

With the timing of the closing, the two are also confessing something implicit to retailers on the doorstep of retirement; it’s tough for 70-somethings to supply inventory for today’s 20-somethings.

“I don’t know how to buy for those people,” says Ames. A confessional, yes, but one without regrets.

Officially, Tres Fabu closes Nov. 30, 2022. What emerges at 238 N. Beach Road after that is unknown — or at least undisclosed. Meanwhile, a percentage of leftover money from, for example, unclaimed gift certificates, will be donated to OICF, OPAL, the Community Resource Center and the Food Bank.