Fabulous Fillamento

Iris Fuller was the mastermind behind Fillamento.


By Barbara Kate Repa

“The truth,” says Iris Fuller, “is I set out to create a good store. It turned out to be a
great store.”

The store was Fillamento — three floors at Fillmore and Sacramento filled to overflowing with furniture, glassware, linens, bath items and eclectic gifts from the whimsical to the practical. It was a retail museum where everything was for sale — and could be gift-wrapped, free of charge, with a raffia bow and a sprig of eucalyptus.

Shoppers near and far still fondly recall the sumptuous displays, the sidewalk sales, the Santa who played his selfsame role for nearly two decades. And they still miss the store that graced the street, now gone since 2001.

Fillamento opened in April 1981 and led the neighborhood’s renaissance as a successful commercial district. “From the day we opened, there was something magical about the place,” said Iris. “I had $300 when I started the store — and the first month, I took in $14,000.”

Finding Fillamento’s location was a mix of happenstance and serendipity. A friend was scoping out the possibility of opening a restaurant in what is now the Elite Cafe, then the New Asia Cafe. Iris and Gill went along to check out the street. They happened upon 2135 Fillmore, the former site of Florence’s 5 & 10.

“I peeked in the door and that was it,” said Iris. “Rent was 32 cents a foot for 3,200 square feet.”

The place needed work — lots of it. “When we first saw the store, there was garbage from floor to ceiling and peel ’n stick mirrors on the walls,” said Gill. “But we knew what it could be, what we would make it.”

They speculate that the site might have housed a bookie joint at one point. In the basement were wires and buzzers everywhere — and sliding metal doors connecting to nearby buildings.

They cleaned and burnished and painted inside and out, and fashioned a mezzanine that later showcased bed and bath products.

For 20 years, the store flourished. There were plans to grow into other locations, to go global. Then, fairly suddenly, it all ended.

A farewell sign posted in the window during the store’s final days in August 2001 recalled the bitter and the sweet.

To our dear customers:

It is with great sadness that we announce the closing of Fillamento. We expect our last business day to be sometime in September. After 20 glorious years of business, we find that we can simply no longer survive in the current economic climate. Fillamento has been my labor of love, and I have treasured every day of it. Please accept my heartfelt thanks and know that you will all be missed.

Thanks for the wonderful memories,
Iris Fuller and the Fillamento staff

“I should have closed a year before I did,” Iris says now. “The reality of the dot-com bust was that people just weren’t spending money. By then, days that had been an easy $5,000 were only $1,800.”

Fillamento’s doors closed on September 3, 2001—Gill’s 60th birthday, and eight days before the terrorist attacks.

“That put everything in perspective,” Iris said. “It was a huge reality check. How was I to mourn?”

Five years later, they still harbor fond memories of Fillamento.

“It was such a neighborhood place, but it was known all over the world,” said Gill. “People still praise Iris and the Fillamento she created. They say things like, ‘Now I have my own business, but you got me started.’ And in that way, the store lives on.”

“I planned to come back and do it again, but smaller,” Iris said. “I thought I’d open up a little store in Petaluma because I’m truly not the retiree type. I’m just not sure I could get married to a store again.”

She picks up a copy of a shopping map of Fillmore Street, checking out the stores and restaurants on the street. “Fabulous! This is so fabulous!” she says with her old enthusiasm. “I may have to open up a little store there.”

LOVE LETTER: “We had a great run.