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Tiburon resident Bonnie Austin was chamber’s first woman president, ran popular gift shop




Longtime Tiburon resident Bonnie Austin, who for years ran a popular gift shop on Main Street and became the first female president of the local chamber of commerce, died of cancer at her home Dec. 30. She was 82.

 

Austin owned and operated The Collector’s Gallery, a gift shop at 28 Main St. that specialized in porcelain and antique collections, from the late 1970s to the late ’80s; the store also had locations in Sausalito and Larkspur. Her work in the local business community included serving as the first woman to serve as president of the Tiburon Peninsula Chamber of Commerce in 1979.

 

She also worked at The Ark as an on-call, part-time office assistant in the 1990s, daughter Tiffany-Marie Austin said, and owned a property-management company that she ran with son Jeff Austin from the mid-1990s until about early 2010, he said.

 

Austin was born Bernadine Marie Klekacz on June 11, 1941, in San Francisco to Minnesota local Bernard Klekacz, a dental ceramist, and Pennsylvania-born Marie Klekacz, née Doniak. Austin’s mother originally owned the Sausalito gift shop Austin would later take over and expand throughout Marin. She was the third of four children in the Klekacz family, born after half-sister Joan and sister Janet and before youngest, Bernard Jr.

 

Austin, who also went by “Bunny” as a child, grew up in the Sunset District and graduated from the Catholic, all-girls Mercy High School on 19th Avenue, which closed in 2020. She also graduated from San Francisco State University, then known as San Francisco State College, according to a wedding announcement in the May 26, 1963, edition of the San Francisco Examiner.

 

During her youth, she spent weekends with her family in Marin, spending time in both Tiburon and Sausalito. Her family also often visited her mother’s shop in Sausalito, Tiffany-Marie said. She recalled her mother telling her she really loved Tiburon and that it would be a great place to live.

 

Austin married her husband Michael in 1963, and Jeff was born in 1964. The three lived in Mill Valley for the first two years of Jeff’s life, he said, but Austin and her husband separated soon after. Austin and Jeff then lived with her grandparents until he turned 7.

 

In the early 1960s, Austin worked as a flight attendant for Western Airlines before eventually joining her mother about 1965 at the family gift shop in Sausalito, then called Mosaique.

 

Austin and her son then moved to Strawberry in the late 1960s, spending time there before finally settling in Tiburon in 1972, where she would live for the rest of her life.

 

Jeff, who still lives in Tiburon and now works in IT and as an electrician, said there was a duality to working with his mother: It was great to work with her, but he also felt like he wanted to be his own person.

 

“It was good to have that sort of growth and have that business and know what it takes to earn a living, and get a good work ethic built and understand the value of a dollar,” he said. He said that earning a living was different than receiving a paycheck from working for someone, “which is a good life lesson to see that result of the harder you work, the more you get out of it.”

 

Austin married her second husband, Steven Shigematsu, about 1976. She opened her store in Tiburon, working with Shigematsu to curate the shop with antiques and collectibles from around the world. Austin also did the bookkeeping, cleaned and hired staff.

 

“She did everything, so she wore a lot of hats,” Tiffany-Marie said. Austin and Shigematsu separated about 1984.

 

Tiffany-Marie remembered her mother as a creative business owner, solving problems and dealing with customers. But she was also creative in her home life.

 

While her daughter said they didn’t have a lot of money compared to others in town, “she was really, really creative about the ways that she would make things fun and special without needing to spend a lot of money — and still making it seem amazing.”

 

Austin was good at saving for events that were important to her children, like a trip to Disneyland, Tiffany-Marie said. Austin was the family’s primary breadwinner, but she was never absent.

 

“And I honestly don’t even know how she did that,” her daughter said.

 

Tiffany-Marie highlighted her mother’s accomplishment of owning two homes in Tiburon, one for herself and one as an investment property, both with her own money.

 

After winding down her property-management business, Austin pursued her passion for singing, joining groups, taking lessons and participating in open-mic nights.

 

An alto, she sang jazz standards. Though her daughter said she didn’t learn the words, Austin “liked to have fun” and offered performances that were engaging and entertaining, with Tiffany-Marie saying her mom would get up on stage “and do her thing, even if it wasn’t rehearsed, because she really was a carefree type of spirit.”

 

Tiffany-Marie, now a professional singer, actor and dancer in Los Angeles, said she has fond memories of singing with her mother as a child. Austin supported her daughter at school and in professional performances.

 

Her daughter said people who knew Austin appreciated her for her friendliness and for being encouraging and supportive.

 

“She always really wanted to make a positive impact in the lives of the people around her,” Tiffany-Marie said, whether it was close friends, neighbors, fellow churchgoers, acquaintances, the grocery clerk or strangers.

 

“She always wanted to be a loving, caring, positive type of presence,” Tiffany-Marie said.

 

In addition to children Tiffany-Marie and Jeff, Austin is survived by her partner of 15 years, William Milavec; grandchildren Taylor and Spencer; sister Janet Jones; brother Bernard Klekacz; and several nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her parents, her half-sister Joan Wagner and prior husbands Shigematsu, who died in 2008, and Fernando Antezana; they wed in 1996 and were together until his death in 2001.

 

A memorial service is planned for 1:30 p.m. Jan. 26 at St. Hilary’s Catholic Church.

 

Reach Tiburon reporter Francisco Martinez at 415-944-4634.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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