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Local gallery owner worked from the ground up

By Rebecca Rempel

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Marina Boretski stands in front of the hat collection at her store, Boretski Gallery, on Front Street. Boretski started the store seven years ago with mainly hats she had collected and antique furniture. Now it includes hats, antiques, vintage clothing, jewellery, art and much more. Photo by Rebecca Rempel.

If you know what you are looking for in Boretski Gallery, Marina Boretski will know if she has it.
Owner of Boretski Gallery on Front Street in Belleville, Boretski is entering her seventh year of running the store which offers antique furniture, vintage clothing and many, many hats.

Boretski was raised in Belleville and then went away for school to Queen’s University in Kingston for a teaching degree, before moving to Toronto to live with some friends.

“I came home (to Belleville) for a weekend and met my husband and that was it,” grinned Boretski. “It was instant.”

Now Boretski and her husband Tom are raising their three teenagers, running the gallery as well as Tom’s roofing company, which has an office at the back of the gallery.

The building itself dates back to 1846, and when Boretski and her husband bought it it was in rough shape. “Tom is always looking for a building to buy and he likes to do restorations and take something from near ready to tear down to build back up again,” Boretski remarked.

It took two years before the building was presentable. “It had been boarded up, with plaster over all the beautiful things,” remembered Boretski. Once the renovations were complete, the couple liked the building so much that they decided to keep it and turn it into a store, as they already had quite a few antiques, as well as a large collection of hats from different decades.

Boretski Gallery was born.

Behind the counter in the gallery, the usual computer setup present in today’s stores is noticeably vacant. When learning the money side of the business from her husband, Boretski learned everything with pen and paper.

“That way, I could understand why I’m doing what I do,” Boretski explained. Once she had learned it all, there was no need to switch to a computer system.

The gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday and Boretski is there from open to close every day. While she does hire additional help for busy periods, she doesn’t mind the work.

“When I’m not busy, then I get to do my sewing,” Boretski smiled. “I could live to sew, re-do and make things, create things, so what better place to be than right here?

“I think that the contact with customers and meeting people who like the same things as me, and who understand and get it,” Boretski offered as her favourite thing regarding working at the gallery. “Not everyone is going to come in here and get it.”

Upon walking in the store, Boretski is always there to greet customers with a smile and an inquiry if they need help locating something specific. If someone already has something in mind, Boretski is quick to delve into the shelves of items, searching for the perfect item. If, by chance, she does not have the item in question, or if it is not perfect for the customer, Boretski is known to create something that will.

For instance, a customer entered the store searching for an elaborate headband to wear to a party. After searching through the many shelves of head attire, she was disappointed to find nothing of the sort, but had known from the start that she might not find anything. Boretski, who had helped in the search and grown excited listening to the woman describe her costume idea, was not ready to let her leave empty-handed. Finding an ordinary headband, she quickly sewed on a giant feather taken off an old pen, turning the ordinary into extraordinary and fulfilling one woman’s vision.

To browsers, Boretski Gallery is “like a treasure trove,” exclaimed Shayna Dirks, a first-time visitor to the store. “It needs a sign saying ‘Discover at your own risk’ because it is so full of fascinating things you don’t see at a typical shop.”

Boretski Gallery has had a few famous visitors including former National Ballet Company ballerina Veronica Tennant, actress Tonya Smith and one of the Trailer Park Boys.

“Tom Cruise hasn’t been in,” Boretski said with a disappointed laugh.

Asked if she would ever consider opening another shop somewhere else, Boretski answered, “I don’t see the store as a franchise style. It’s sort of me, and I can’t be in two places.”

Boretski Gallery is truly Marina Boretski. Everything in the store has been picked out by her, and carefully arranged in a seemingly careless way about the store.

“I just really like this stuff,” beamed Boretski. “That’s really the basis of me being here. And I really like people. I like the fact that I can have my own business and be as silly as I want. You can’t always do that when you work for someone else. Just being yourself.”

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