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Business provides fresh start for Claremont merchant

To local merchant Brenda Ricciardi, Bottega 25 is a true labor of love. To understand why, one has to look at what she has been through to get here.

The tiny home décor shop, tucked away in a corner of Claremont’s Packing House, has been open for more than a year. Every corner of the space is adorned with charming knick-knacks from across the world, primarily the United Kingdom and Italy.

“I wanted an Italian and euro-type of name and bottega means artist gallery or boutique or artist workshop,” Ms. Ricciardi said. “So it was perfect.”

Despite the relative newness of Bottega 25, Ms. Ricciardi has been a Village mainstay for many years prior through her previous shop, Three French Hens. Together with her dear friend, local real estate agent Catherine Shelton, Ms. Ricciardi shopped for fascinating pieces from around the world and brought all of it to the City of Trees.

Disaster struck in August of 2010, when Ms. Shelton died in a tragic auto accident in front of Three French Hens on First Street.

According to reports from the COURIER, Ms. Ricciardi and Ms. Shelton were exiting an SUV when it lurched forward, striking Ms. Shelton. It slammed into two light poles and a bench before stopping near the entrance to Bua Thai Cuisine. Ms. Shelton died a short time later at Pomona Valley Medical Center.

Ms. Ricciardi herself was injured while trying to get the careening car to stop. She was devastated by the loss of her closest friend, and slowly withdrew from her duties at her store, shuttering it a year later.

“I closed Three French Hens because it was very, very difficult to be in that space,” Ms. Ricciardi said. “And just, every day the memories of what happened…it was really difficult. I just couldn’t go into the shop because of that. It didn’t feel the same anymore. I wasn’t happy. It wasn’t a happy place.”

Ms. Ricciardi stayed away from retail for nearly three years, resigning herself to giving up on her dream.

She eventually connected with and married her husband, Mario Ricciardi. She credits Mr. Ricciardi, a local orthodontist, with lighting the spark under her to open up another shop.

“We were having dinner one day and he said, ‘Why don’t you do what you love? Why don’t you go open a shop?’” Ms. Ricciardi said. “And I said, ‘I just don’t want to start the whole Three French Hens thing again.’ And he said, ‘Just do it.’”

The name Bottega 25 has a personal significance; the term “bottega” was chosen to reflect the store’s new Italian-inspired theme, and the number 25 reflects the date Brenda and Mario were married.

For the newly-christened Bottega 25, Ms. Ricciardi wanted to go in a completely new direction, freeing herself from the memories of her last enterprise. But, that wasn’t exactly what happened.

“I had a completely different vision for what Bottega 25 would be. And Bottega 25 is almost exactly the same as Three French Hens,” Ms. Ricciardi said, laughing. “So it’s just in my blood.”

When you walk into Bottega 25, you get the sense that you’re entering into someone’s living room or an artist’s loft. Walls are covered with Italian portraits that hearken back to the 1940s and 1950s, gleaming chandeliers are tastefully stationed throughout the room and, most prominently, a sign adorned on the right wall reads, “Life is beautiful,” which serves as the shop’s thesis statement.

“The space feels much better,” Ms. Ricciardi said. “It just feels like one good, happy, nice, beautiful space.”

She opened the shop without much advertising, hoping she would go under the radar and not be connected to Three French Hens. Claremonters immediately recognized her and her signature style, however, and embraced Ms. Ricciardi with open arms.

“That’s the best thing about Claremont,” she said with a smile. “It’s a wonderful community and the people are lovely.”

Ms. Ricciardi has big plans for her store in the months going forward. In December, she plans to open up her basement for weekly classes and workshops involving painting and designing different types of furniture. She is also working out a deal with Annie Sloan, a top-of-the-line decorative paint supplier from the United Kingdom.

With the help of her husband, as well as her trusted employees, Ms. Ricciardi is reclaiming her status as a shopkeeper and a member of Claremont’s thriving business community.

“After all the circumstances that happened I thought it was done—that it was all over,” Ms. Ricciardi said. “And now that I created Bottega 25, it’s very special.”

Still, she will never forget her friendship with Catherine Shelton.

“Every day I think about her,” she said. “I think that she’s a big part of everything I do.”

Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com

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