Five months into starting her own business, Lucia Nguyen’s phone rang.
Nguyen was running late to church that Sunday morning. The call was from a friend who owned a business above Nguyen’s dress shop.
“She called me and she was like, ‘Hey, did you hear what happened?’ and I was like, no, what are you talking about?” Nguyen said. “She tells me the Weil Arcade is on fire, and everything’s destroyed.”
Instead of turning her car around and heading toward the fire, Nguyen, in shock, continued on her way to church.
“I went inside and I told our church leaders and our pastors, ‘Hey, my building is on fire,’” said. “Everybody froze, and we all gathered around, and they started praying for me. I was still shaking and very emotional. "
When she finally did make it to the store, her mom, devastated, collapsed in her arms.
“I was trying to be strong, and I wasn’t trying to break down. I was trying to tell her, ‘Hey, it’s OK. We’re gonna move from this,’ because she had invested in there as well,” said Nguyen, “Her and my brother. They helped me little by little to be able to have something.”
Finding support in community
Nguyen knew she wanted to own her own business after she graduated high school.
After one year at Portland Community College, she considered following her family legacy. As a child, her mom owned a store filled with bridal gowns, prom gowns and quinceañera dresses. She turned to her mom for advice.
Nguyen’s mom told her the best way to open up a business was to do it debt free. At 19, Nguyen decided to work for three years and focus on saving money. During that time she saved $100,000, and by the time she opened her store, she didn’t have to take out any loans.
Her mom and her brother helped put in the elbow grease. As a family, they tore down the walls, put down the floors, and painted the store. They made everything perfect for the Grand opening on August 14, 2021.
“My former principal in elementary school, who’s the mayor, was there to do the ribbon cutting for me,” Nguyen said, “So it was full circle watching for him, watching me come from a little girl to now having my own business. That was a really special moment.”
People don’t wear formal dresses everyday. When they do, that day is all about that person or someone they love.
Nguyen sells dresses for every major stage of someone’s life.
“There’s sometimes tears that come down and family members are there to experience that moment too. And to see them like, ‘Oh my gosh, you look so gorgeous,’” Nguyen said, “... when they’re coming out of the fitting room, you hear the gasp of the entourage that’s there to see the dress.”
Investigators say the fire at the Weil Arcade, which dates back more than a century and was home to at least eight businesses, was intentionally set. Roel Leon, a Hillsboro resident, has been charged with arson in the case.
Even businesses not directly hit with fire damage have been hurt. Downtown business owner Shana Nelson and her partner Eric Milavetz own Arcade 2084, a 1980s-themed arcade and bar, located across the street. They have seen a significant slow-down in traffic.
“Around 70% of our customers are new customers,” Nelson said. “And when new customers can’t find us because they can’t drive down the street … it’s had a drastic effect on our business, even though we’ve had no smoke or water damage.”
The day of the fire, the Hillsboro Downtown Partnership furnished Nguyen with a temporary space. According to Elisa Joy Payne, executive director of the partnership, Hillsboro’s commitment to encouraging young business owners is how its downtown stays dynamic in an age of big box stores.
Nguyen’s temporary space is just around the corner from her burnt out storefront.
When she walks past the ruins of the Weil Arcade, pain is mixed with gratitude.
“I’m really grateful for the community of Hillsboro,” Nguyen said. They’ve been working like crazy, like non-stop volunteering hours to just make sure people are placed in a space where they can still operate.”
Nguyen hopes to not only rebuild, but expand her business. And whether it’s her mentors, her faith community, or her family, she knows she won’t have to do it alone.