Just a few months after Napan Mary Gutierrez had finally moved her business out of her garage and into a retail location, tragedy struck. On Thanksgiving of last year Napan was killed in an automobile accident, reports the Napa Valley Register.

As the family struggled to find a way through their loss, Joel Gutierrez found himself surrounded by the formal ball gowns, cake toppers and sewing notions at Creaciones Mary.

Gutierrez, who lives in Fairfield and works for Xerox in customer support, is determined to keep Creaciones Mary going. His wife and niece will help out, he said. A new seamstress has been found to do alterations. “It will be a family effort,” he said. “We’re going to try and make this work in memory of her and for the benefit of my niece.”

“It means everything to me that my family are doing whatever is possible to keep my mom’s business going. She would have loved that,” Virgen, an eighth grader at Harvest Middle School, wrote in an e-mail.

Mary’s daughter has only been at Creaciones Mary once since her mother died.

“It was extremely difficult for me,” she wrote. “Every day when I came from school I’d walk into the shop and she would ask my how my day was going. Walking into the shop and seeing her chair in front of her sewing machine empty brought me to tears.”

Mary’s husband, Juan Vargas, has not been able to spend much time at the shop either, Gutierrez said. “He’s having a tough time dealing with this,” Gutierrez said. Vargas and Gutierrez had been married for just over a year when Gutierrez died.

Reminders of Mary surface regularly for her brother. Almost every day another customer stops by looking for her. Gutierrez has to give them the bad news over and over again. “The tough part is having to tell people and relive it. They are shocked. I feel bad for them,” he said.

Mary Gutierrez was about to celebrate her 10-year business anniversary, and must have had hundreds of customers, he said. “It seems like everywhere I turn, people knew her.”

Photo by tsuacctnt