Kyle Jensen / The Record — Roberta Sawyer speaks to a customer at her Langley shop. The store, Roberta, closes March 4 after about 30 years in business.

Kyle Jensen / The Record — Roberta Sawyer speaks to a customer at her Langley shop. The store, Roberta, closes March 4 after about 30 years in business.

Roberta: Langley shop, fashion ‘icon’ to close

For decades, Roberta in downtown Langley has been Whidbey’s own small slice of the New York City runway, with walls stocked with cashmere and high-end fashion lines from locales such as Paris, Los Angeles and Tokyo.

But after years of giving straight and uncompromising fashion advice to customers, store owner and Whidbey Island’s own fashionista Roberta Sawyer is closing her doors.

“It’s the end of an era for me,” Sawyer said. “I’ve been in fashion all my life, but I’m ready to try something different.”

Roberta has called the small storefront next to Moonraker Books on First Street home since the early ‘80s. It’s one of Langley’s longest-standing businesses, and is something of an icon to women’s fashion aficionados on Whidbey Island, according to Langley Main Street Association Program Manager Lorinda Kay. The doors will permanently close on March 4 when Sawyer retires. Sawyer is currently selling the store’s fixtures and the typically high prices are slashed in a last effort to sell the contents of the store.

“She has been around for so long in Langley that her store has become an iconic Langley destination, and she’s become iconic herself,” Kay said. “She brought high-end fashion to a place you’d never expect to find it.”

The word “icon” is a descriptor many of her loyal customers and long-time Langley residents use to describe both Sawyer and her store. The shop is oddly placed on Whidbey Island, while many of the items in the store are more typically found in the world’s fashion capitals. Her way of working with customers is straight forward and New York-esque — she won’t hesitate to tell a customer if an article of clothing looks terrible on them.

It’s not about selling for Sawyer, it’s about the art of making people beautiful.

“Being forthright with customers is my business model, and it’s worked for as long as I’ve been here,” Sawyer said. “Customers appreciate an honest opinion. I wouldn’t know how to do it any other way. It’s just who I am. The store is me.”

Sawyer confidently says Roberta is the spot for high-end women’s fashion not only on Whidbey, but for the greater Seattle area. She says that’s not ego talking, but her insider knowledge of the industry she’s spent a lifetime in. As she says, “this isn’t Nordstrom.”

“Customers will come in wearing something they bought 15 years ago that hasn’t worn,” Sawyer said. “The quality of the clothes is high, and I only buy what I would wear. This is basically my closet.”

It’s clear Roberta is Sawyer’s closet after learning of her modeling past. A young, tall and slim Sawyer walked the runways of New York City in the late ’60s and early ’70s. She worked in showrooms and for famous designers such as Thea Porter after her modeling career. Her fashion sense took her from the Big Apple to Los Angeles and San Francisco to work in renown department stores. She even rubbed shoulders with famous creative minds such as the eccentric Saldavor Dali, who did a photo shoot with her.

Eventually, she settled in Langley to carve out a living; a friend convinced her to visit the Village by the Sea, which resulted in Sawyer offering to buy The Star Store. The deal went through, so she packed her bags and headed to Puget Sound.

She only had it for a few years, selling the business “sometime” in the ’80s to Gene and Tamar Felton. She opened Roberta soon after, and many say its success is the result of her past business experience and natural fashion acumen.

“This woman is a master of fashion merchandising, and she has a huge ability to merchandise with her customers in mind,” Store Manager Karin Bardarson said. “She brought beauty to the island, and we needed it.”

With the closing of Roberta, Moonraker Books owner Josh Hauser says Langley is losing “an impeccable taste” and a “one-of-a-kind merchandiser.” She says while others may try to simply sell product, Sawyer always has the customer in mind, even when the straight-forwardness suggests otherwise.

Roberta has also become somewhat of a home away from home for some customers. Sawyer says many of her loyal buyers regularly stop by to talk, knit and even walk her dog. The store’s final days have been filled with visits from regulars who stop to chat, buy one last item and exchange hugs. To them, this is the “end of an era.”

“I’d just like to thank all of Langley for a lifetime of fashion and friendship,” Sawyer said. “I’ve spent a lifetime in fashion, but it’s time for a new adventure.”

Contributed photo — Sawyer was a model in New York City in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Contributed photo — Sawyer was a model in New York City in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

More in Business

See caption
Seafood delivery biz is catching on

F or millennial business owners Emily Wilder and Sam Mitchell, the world is their oyster.

Photo by Karina Andrew/Whidbey News-Times
Will Hawkins and Dawn Smith officially took ownership of Rainshadow Nursery on Oct. 1.
Rainshadow Nursery welcomes new owners

Dawn Smith and Will Hawkins of Greenbank officially took ownership of Rainshadow Nursery on Oct. 1.

Meagan Welsh and JT Hilton attend to the plants at Mutiny Bay Bamboo Co. (Photo by Karina Andrew/Whidbey News-Times)
Freeland bamboo business booms

A new landscaping company is specializing in a fast-growing plant that is beautiful and sustainable.

See caption
New teriyaki truck rolls into Freeland

The new business, IC Teriyaki, is owned and operated by Eli Imbery and Carol Coble.

See caption
South Whidbey farm hosts fitness classes

If you’ve ever wanted to do bicep curls with a chicken or goat walking by, now might be your chance.

Andrew Curtis drops off groceries at a home in Clinton on a delivery run for Whidbey Deliveries. (Photo by Karina Andrew/Whidbey News-Times)
South Whidbey grads run grocery delivery business

Graham Colar and Andrew Curtis deliver groceries and run errands on South Whidbey.

Whidbey Island tourism spikes in 2021

Daily visitors to Island County boomed this year despite COVID, with economic impact far-reaching.

Taylor Moore shows off one of her signature smoothie bowls. (Photo by Karina Andrew/Whidbey News-Times)
Entreprenuer brings smoothie bowls to South Whidbey

Taylor Moore wants her own business to be a place where people can “rehabilitate themselves.”

Salon that won PSE makeover to appear on Evening Magazine

A popular Coupeville spa and salon will be spotlighted in a reality makeover show this week.

Shannon Hamilton, front, and Wendi Hilborn own Whidbey Farm and Market on Monroe Landing Road outside of Oak Harbor. Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times
New market opens across from drive-in

Whidbey Farm and Market has close to 100 local products.

Sound Publishing makes $500K in grants available to struggling businesses

Sound Publishing has launched a local stimulus program to help businesses adapt… Continue reading

Despite 2020, Oak Harbor deli opens doors for business

An island-wide power outage and a pandemic couldn’t keep Zanini’s Deli from opening in Oak Harbor.