Maryellen Willis is co-owner of Nonnie’s House, a women’s boutique and day spa in Old Town Clovis, with a second location in Fresno.
Married for 35 years, her husband, Bob, is pastor of Northpark Community Church. Willis came to California from New York when she was eight, attended Clovis High and Fresno State and, as she says, “my family just fit with the City of Clovis.” Prior to opening Nonnie’s House, Willis worked in the fitness industry for 11 years and for a while in childcare. She was often seen working alongside her brothers at the Clovis family business — Luna Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant.
Q (Sheldon Baker): What got you started in selling women’s fashions and accessories?
A (Maryellen Willis): I really don’t enjoy shopping. My mother kept after me to open a business and I said no for seven years. Finally, she convinced me to go into business with her. Nonnie’s house in Old Town Clovis is now 14 years old. Our store in Fresno is four years old. Neither of us had any real retail experience, so we had to rely on prayer and a lot of trial and error as learned the business. Some of the amazing lines you’ll find in our stores are Brighton, Joseph Ribkoff, Frank Lyman and Tribal. In addition to those brand names, what sets ourselves apart is offering the best customer service in the area. Hospitality is also part of the shopping experience our customers receive in both stores.
Q: How did the name originate?
A: Nonnie’s House means grandma’s house in Italian. I used to call my grandmother Nonnie and it’s what my kids call my mother. My mom wanted something with an Italian flair, but we needed something people would pronounce correctly. Plus, it’s also a nice way to honor her.
Q: Your partner is well-known in the Clovis community.
A: My famous business partner happens to be my mom, Carmela Liberta. My parents were born in Italy and when we came to California they established Luna Pizzeria in Clovis in 1969 with their savings of $20,000. Try starting a good Italian restaurant today with that amount of money. My mother and brothers still own it. She is quite the entrepreneur. At 78, she still bakes all the homemade cookies and biscotti, which are part of the hospitality offered at both of our stores. She was the creative inspiration behind purchasing the property and renovating the Clovis site. She has single-handedly taught me a lot about business and how to service and love people.
Q: What makes Nonnie’s House special?
A: We’re located in two 100-year-old historic homes on Pollasky Avenue in Old Town, both filled with a wide-range of women’s fashions, jewelry and gifts. Our customers can browse through the entire interior of both houses. It’s a friendly and homey atmosphere. We offer complimentary coffee and those homemade cookies and biscotti I mentioned, that enhance the shopping experience. By the way, those cookies are also for sale by the dozen. We have a day spa in the back building, which offers massage therapy, skin, eyelash extensions, manicures and pedicures. The initial residents of the home were Siro and Ismene Grossi. Their daughter and her children lived in the back home. The family sold the home in 1985 and we purchased the property in 2003.
Q: Do you have plans to expand?
A: We’re always looking and praying and open to new ideas. When the time is right we might decide to go down the expansion trail.
Q: Can you share any 2017 fashion trends?
A: I’ve done the buying for this year. I’ve seen fringe and flowing tops and bottoms as well as puffy and bell sleeves. Overall, less structure.
Q: In the celebrity world, who has a good idea how to dress?
A: I would say Melania Trump has the right idea about how to dress. She always looks very elegant with a touch of class and femininity.
Q: What’s your favorite color?
A: Black. When applying it to fashion, it’s dressy and flattering on everyone. And it also makes you look slimmer.
Q: If you won $200 million in the lottery this Saturday, what would you do with your winnings?
A: I would want to pay off the church’s mortgage and give to many area nonprofit ministries. I would also want to buy my dream car — a black Corvette.
Sheldon C. Baker is chief executive officer for Clovis-based Baker Dillon Group and has created numerous brand marketing and public relations campaigns for companies and brands. For Q&A interview consideration e-mail Sheldon at SBaker@BakerDillon.com.