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Petaluma artist blends music and business with The Bus Shoppe

Springtime means the arrival of music festival season.

And that means that Melanie Dado-Stammler is finally preparing to pull her 25-foot school bus - which she’s converted into a rolling mobile boutique - out of hibernation.

As owner and personal stylist of The Bus Shoppe, Dado-Stammler’s unique business brings affordable “bohemian festival wear” to concerts and music festivals all over the greater Bay Area. A fourth-generation Petaluma resident, she designs and sells what she describes as a very feminine, carefree, and spirited line of clothing items. Her clients tend to appreciate festival wear that carries that certain touch of wanderlust that defines Dado-Stammler’s creations.

And she appreciates the freedom that comes from operating a business out of a mobile store-gallery-dressing-room-and-office.

“My bus adventure allows me the mix of everything I love,” the 52-year-old said. “Festivals, live music, warm weather, great food, fashion and photography. I’m in heaven.”

Dado-Stammler and her bus currently participate in most of the major Sonoma County festivals, including the Petaluma Music Festival (coming up on Aug. 5) and The Railroad Square Music Festival in Santa Rosa (June 11). She’s showcased faithfully at SOMO Concerts in Rohnert Park and travels to San Francisco for the Treasure Island Flea (last Saturday and Sunday of the month) and to Oakland for the Jack of All Trades Market (every second Saturday).

For the first time this year she attended the Edwardian Ball in San Francisco, and in May she’ll attend the Steampunk Masquerade in Alameda.

Before The Bus Shoppe, Dado-Stammler and her husband Craig owned and operated two local businesses, each for a decade. She ran Starstruck Boutique on Kentucky, while one block away her husband ran Bella Luma Caffe in Helen Putnam Plaza.

“Brick and mortar proved too expensive, and frankly, I preferred the outdoors versus sitting in the store every day waiting for customers,” she said. “It especially stung on the weekends, when most all my friends were out and about at all the great music festivals - and I felt stuck in the store.”

Eventually, the couple decided to downsize. They closed the cafe in February of 2011 and the boutique in February of 2012. Dado-Stammler’s original plan, after closing Starstruck, was to build an “e-store” that would offer the same glitzy stage-wear she sold in the boutique. All of her products were catalogued and uploaded onto the website, and everything was ready to go. Then, three days before the launch-date of the new business, Craig passed away.

“It was called Sweet and Unique Boutique, but after Craig died I was feeling anything but that,” she said. “I was devastated from his sudden death. It took me a bit to regroup.”

Dado-Stammler, who always planned on eventually going mobile, began searching for a Shasta Trailer. It was an old school bus, however, that finally caught her eye on Craigslist. She went to Cotati to see the bus in person and struck a deal with the owner. Rather than paying out-of-pocket or placing a cash down payment, she traded her Chevy Suburban with a blown head gasket.

“It was a win, win,” she recalled. “The guy could fix the suburban - and I needed the bus.”

With the help of several friends, Dado-Stammler completely transformed the vehicle. The seats were ripped out, the interior was painted, hardwood floors were installed and a dressing room was constructed. In April 2013, The Bus Shoppe made its debut at the Butter and Eggs Day Parade. Dado-Stammler recalls customers being “floored” and “amazed” when they entered the bus.

In addition to festival wear for both men and women, Dado-Stammler’s magical mobile emporium also carries what she likes to call, “an eclectic selection, great for ‘stage presence.’” She loves working with musicians and models, offering personal styling for video and photo shoots. Some of the regular customers she’s styled or provided clothes for include Katie Freeman of The Incubators, along with members of The Grain and other up-and-coming Sonoma County musicians.

A graduate of Sonoma State University - where she majored in Kinesiology and minored in Art, Dado-Stammler allowed that she’s always been an artist at heart.

The bus is loaded with personal jewelry creations from her own line, The M Collection. The wearable works-of-art are handmade and wire-wrapped from sterling silver wire and chain. She also repurposes and upcycles found relics and semi-precious gemstones to create necklaces, earrings and bracelets.

At the festivals, she sometimes enjoys sneaking away from the bus to take photos of the bands. It began as a hobby, but now people inquire about her photo services. Additionally, Dado-Stammler is a graphic designer, working under the business name Glitz Graphic Design, through which she enjoys creating her own marketing collateral.

“Call me girl boss,” she said, laughing. “Slaying it all as it comes.”

Her latest venture is a new space in Sebastopol, at the Bohemian Corner, where she’s established a pop-up shoppe called “The Bus Shack.” It’s being utilized as a staging and storage area, where the bus will be parked when weather permits.

At the end of April, Dado-Stammler and The Bus Shoppe will celebrate their five-year anniversary together.

“I really feel like I’ve hit a grand slam,” she said. “I meet new people all the time, and that’s the best part about it, because when they come in and see it - the bus - they’re overwhelmed. They’re just mesmerized by the transformation, and it makes me feel so good. Like, wow! Five years later, people are still really enjoying this experience.”

For more information visit The Bus Shoppe at www.instagram.com/busshoppe

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