Such is life: After 20 years in downtown Edmonds, Bowmans closing C’est La Vie

Michael and Colleen Bowman

Think back 20-plus years.

On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists took down the World Trade Center and hit the Pentagon. Just four months earlier, Colleen and Michael Bowman opened their new downtown Edmonds retail store, C’est La Vie. The U.S. was shocked and virtually shut down. 

After the attack, Colleen turned to Michael and said, “I have to go to the store!” 

“Why?” he asked.

“Because people will need to see something beautiful,” Colleen replied

All day, people came in to thank her for being open so they could leave tragedy behind for a few moments.

That time 20 years ago marked the beginning of a love relationship between Colleen and Michael and their customers.

Now, after a global pandemic shut the world down, the Bowmans are shuttering their beloved business C’est La Vie, a poignantly appropriate name, meaning “Such is Life.”

For Colleen and Michael Bowman, it’s time to retire. “I’ve worked all my adult life. I’m ready to retire,” Colleen said. She was the face of the business but the partnership betweeen the two has been total and Michael worked at it every day as well. “I took out the garbage and changed lightbulbs,” he said. “This was all Colleen.”

Michael fell in love with Colleen long before he was able to propose marriage. But, since then, “We have the most fun together. We always have something to talk about,” he said.

Michael came up with the name C’est La Vie because he loves words, their meanings, origins. (Many detentions in middle school meant he spent a lot of time studying the dictionary!) But credit for the rest, he said, belongs to Colleen. “It’s her business. She is the best buyer, the best merchandiser, the best organizer, an amazing human being,” he said.

The Bowmans sold the building on 5th Avenue South and said they will respect the new owner’s right to make an announcement about the future of the space.

C’est la Vie as it appeared in May 2021, courtesy the store’s Facebook page.

The business itself was a magnet for many loyal customers. The store sold high-quality gifts, decor and clothing that could be described as having a certain style, a panache. Michael is effusive about Colleen’s talents, “People are going to miss all the items in her store,” he said.

The Bowmans’ fundraising and charity work continually drew fans from all over the area. They created a calendar with local restaurateurs to raise money for a children’s burn camp, and held other events to fund defibrillators to schools, buy shoes, clothes and food for children in need, and more. “The things she’s done for people,” Michael said, “it’s just astounding. And it was hard. But she persisted.”

“The give-back is so important to me,” Colleen said. “When you hear about a particular charity, like Washington Kids in Transition — homeless kids! So, just look at our community: we can change that in a heartbeat by just giving exposure to them!” 

“The Phoenix Burn Camp, for example. We did the calendar for them. The couple who formed this camp for burned children is remarkable  This one little boy was burned just before the camp and they put him on  plane and he arrived with just the clothes on his back.  

Another beneficiary was the Renton-based Domestic Abuse Women’s Network. “I would do anything for them,” Colleen said, adding that after the Bowmans opened a second store in Renton, “I got all the restaurants and stores involved and we got food, wine, goodie bags and had a full-on fashion show!”

Colleen’s energy is abundant, and Michael said he was concerned that she would not be able to retire. The pandemic, however, changed the whole picture for them.

“I realized I don’t have to move so fast and I don’t want to now,” Colleen said. “I take things a little slower and can spend time watching the hummingbirds and chickadees in our yard… just slowing down and watching, noticing… not move so fast.”

On the other hand, Michael knows her well. “She will be tapped to help out somewhere and will soon be running it. I asked her not to volunteer. We need to live these next two years like they are the only ones we have.”  They have plenty of exotic travels ideas.

“I had to promise Michael two years of “no!” (about volunteering),”Colleen added, although there is one exception. She spends several hours a week at Swedish Edmonds Hospital “cuddling the babies.” She does it for the babies, for herself, and now, for the nurses. “They need so much support,” she added. 

The pandemic did more to the Bowmans than just slow them down. They spent much more time enjoying each other, doing things together, just the two of them. They exercised at home together, went for walks, enjoyed a new outdoor gazebo and each other’s company at a different pace. (Their grown son lives in Oregon.)

“We laugh more than ever now,” Michael said, smiling.

“Certainly the pandemic took the fun out of retail. for me,” Colleen admitted. “It was never about selling stuff. It was about community, the events you can put on for other people. Once that wasn’t possible, it just wasn’t the same. And traveling to trade shows stopped for two years. Ordering online just isn’t fun and can lead to mistakes. Sometimes items were delivered and I got a look a them, they went directly to the ‘sale’ shelf,” she laughed.

“I’m going to miss not having the store because of the people who come in… and seeing that woman coming out of the dressing room with a smile because she feels great about how she looks,” Colleen said.

Local retailers always give credit to their regular customers. The Bowmans agree.

“You can’t survive without them. They are the lifeblood of our 20 years,” Colleen said. “We have added so many new friends into our personal life, and it gives us huge smiles when they walk in the door.”

Colleen got solid retail training after 17 years at Nordstrom. She was one of a handful of Edmonds shop owners who had worked at Nordstrom. “There were a lot of us… it (Nordstrom) was a great training ground. It gave me a strong work ethic. You had to work a lot. It looks like fun but it’s a lot of work, not fluff.”

Michael had three jobs when they started the shop. But, after five years with the store, Michael agreed to help build her business by starting a website and expanding into Renton with a second store right after the 2008 crash.  “It was hard, commuting through Seattle traffic, but we still have Renton customers who drive up to Edmonds to visit this store.” They closed the Renton store in 2016.

They had a good division of labor, with Michael working the back end and the financials, and Colleen doing all the creative work. As they enter a new phase of life, Michael said, “My motto is live every day with childlike awe, just don’t act like one. I simply couldn’t be happier.”

For a business that opened around the time of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, survived the 2008 recession and the reopening of a newly renovated Alderwood Mall, overcame the surge of online shopping and, now, a global pandemic, it has been a wonderful ride for the Bowmans.

“I think the city will miss her, but I have her full-time,” Michael added.

This reporter admits to shedding more than a few tears listening to Colleen and Michael reminisce as, I, too, was a regular customer and will miss them.

But we must all face reality:  C’est La Vie. That’s life.  Maybe the Bowmans will provide a travel blog for us.

— By Mauri Shuler

  1. Michael and Colleen – thank you for bringing such joy, fun, and value to retail! More importantly, thank you for being such a positive influence in our city. The best of success to you both! Happy Retirement.

    1. I stopped down after returning from Christmas holidays back East and saw the shop had closed. I read this fabulous story posted in the window and now found it here online. I loved C’est La Vie, like so many others, and will miss its vibrant, happy atmosphere. I wish I had known this back story earlier – thank you for sharing it. Wishing you all the very best, and thank you for brightening our days with the lovely store here in Edmonds.

  2. Bought many great gifts there that brought smiles to recipients faces, a few things for our home as well. Cheers!

    1. Just a note that someone asked about the official closing date and here was Colleen’s reply: “no official date but by the way things are flying out of here it will be sooner than later.”

      1. Love this shop and I have bought many gifts and personal items there. I always shop the small business stores in Edmonds for unique holiday gifts. Sorry when one closes.

  3. I am happy for them. I liked C’est la Vie. Infact it was one of my favorites also. I have met Coleen but not Michael and she had a unique taste right from the beginning at her other location N on 5Th. I bought gifts there and decorative things. later I bought a bit of costume jewelry there which was also unique. So thank you for all of the nice things you brought into the store. Congratulations on your Retirement I bet its great. Sure sounds like it.

  4. Umf. This is a heavy story. “Certainly the pandemic took the fun out of retail. for me,”
    I believe in you. Great job and don’t stop.

  5. Oh Colleen…I have spent many trips to your store over the past several years. Thank you for all that you have done for our Edmonds.
    Some of my trips to your store were for gifts and some trips for myself.
    I’m so happy for you and your family and hope to see you out and about in Edmonds.
    Robin Sloate

  6. Well shoot, I will miss this lovely store very much. Such a great mix of unique gifts and treasures! Happy retirement and thanks for all your contributions to the community.

  7. Best of luck! I will miss your great store. I have a fabulous unique lamp I bought there just after we moved to our Edmonds condo and I still love it! Enjoy your retirement

    1. Colleen,
      I am sad to hear about your store but know you are making the decision that is best for you. I am very glad we get to still have you at the hospital. You bring so much to our littlest patients, their families and our nursing staff. You are so appreciated! Here’s to the next chapter! Cheers!

  8. So so sorry to see you go; I have benefited from both quality merchandise and Colleen’s hugs and welcome. And, I am happy you can go on with a spectacular life journey together.

  9. Your store is a favorite, it’s tough to imagine using the word “was” with C’est La Vie but so it will be. I’m delighted for the two of you and wish you many years of good health and continued happiness.

  10. I will miss this store so much! It’s been my “go to” for myself and many gifts. Your staff has been so wonderful and helpful and inventory was just what I needed on so many occasions. So sorry to see you go. Best wishes for a a happy, healthy retirement!

  11. My favorite store in all of Edmonds!! Much of my income found a home there
    Thank you Colleen (one of my favorite people), Michael, and special staff for helping to make Edmonds unique.
    Now go spend my money
    Ed Gordon

  12. Change, we can always count on it. Bummer.

    This shop always had such good taste. I could count on finding something just right, for whomever; particularly my wife.

    Best wishes.

  13. We have so many things decorating our home from this store. I’m sorry to see them go. What will happen to Arista with the building sold? We love that store too!

  14. I am so happy for you Colleen and Michael! I am also so sad to see you close your fabulous store! I absolutely will miss the wonderful shopping opportunities for many artistic, beautiful, unique and special gifts for family, friends and myself too. The clothes and jewelry have always been special and unique.
    While the store will be missed, so will you two, very, very much.
    Best wishes for a happy, healthy and adventurous retirement!
    Much Love,
    Jill Storm

  15. I loved the wooden Daisies Colleen had hanging on the wall in the store. I told her I wouldn’t know how to hang them in my house. Colleen stated that if I lived close by, she would come over and help me hang them and put them in the right place. They have been hanging on my wall ever since 2015. I love them and would never have placed them were she did. Colleen and her store will be missed!!!!

  16. Dear Colleen and Michael,

    Thank you so much for all the years you have given Edmonds. I am one of your long time satisfied customers, and I have just loved coming into your store, even if I wasn’t in the mood for a purchase. It was a treat to see what lovely art pieces Colleen had placed there, on the walls, on the display stands, the ceiling, the floor, everywhere, a beautiful, interesting environment. No question, I will miss the shop, but mostly, I will miss you, Colleen. Your welcoming and generous spirit made the shop a place I could enjoy and wanted to patronize. And although I didn’t know Michael as well, your attention to the financials and administration were essential for C’est la Vie’s success.

    Have a Happy Retirement feeling positive about the good will you have shared with Edmonds.

  17. My heart was broken today when I had seen your shop had closed. I’d been so busy at work and today was the first day I traveled to Edmonds. You will be truly missed. Loved your style. I bought items online as well and you were so helpful. I would love to open a shop a like that!

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