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Popular Portarlington store to close

Business owner Michelle Rathgeber was diagnosed with an incurable disease 18 years ago, but she has remained positive and never suffered from it while enjoying a fulfilling business career.

Last month it was announced that Mishka + Mikki, the boutique store she owns with husband Michael in Portarlington, would close at the end of May.

Ms Rathgeber said it was not an easy choice, but one she had to “face”.

She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) 18 years ago.

There is no known cure for the chronic disease, but Ms. Rathbeger said she has not let it define her or control her life.

“I didn’t let it pass me by, I see it as me and my shadow. It is there, but it has always been quite distant,” she said.

Throughout her treatment of the disease, Ms. Rathgeber has remained positive and believes that learning to accept and embrace challenges is just part of life.

“We are reaching sixty; I was still able to work all the time,” she said.

“I could still do all those things and make my mark on the world.

“Wherever you walk, you leave footprints. Make those footprints count.”

Mishka + Mikki owners Michael and Michelle Rathbeger. Image: Facebook.

Mishka + Mikki opened in 2018 and offers ‘quality clothing and quirky homewares’.

After owning and running businesses for 35 years, it was always the intention that Mishka + Mikki would be the “last” of the bunch.

“I woke up one night, I woke my husband up and said, ‘Just one more thing,’ and that was it,” Mrs. Rathgeber said.

“(I said to him): ‘Mishka and Mikki, that’s you and me together’.”

Portarlington was chosen because it had special meaning for the couple.

“The philosophy behind our store is to create a journey for people when they come in,” said Ms. Rathbeger.

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The store built up a loyal and broad customer base.

“They come from all over… Bendigo, Ballarat, all over Melbourne,” she said.
“The customers we have are incredible. That feeling that we are all part of a community of love, sharing and care.”

Ms Rathgeber said the progression of the disease had begun to affect her effectiveness, and her results had become unpredictable.

The couple were grateful for the outpouring of support and “love and respect” after the closure was announced, from both staff and customers, Ms Rathbeger said.

“It takes a village to raise a child, just as it takes a team and a community to make a business successful,” she said.

“It’s just one big, beautiful, happy bubble, no matter what that bubble looks like.”

Michael, the other half of Mishka + Mikki, will continue his telescope and binoculars business.

The couple will spend more time with their family and hope to travel.

“We have elderly parents and two beautiful granddaughters in Bendigo,” Ms Rathgeber said.

“We want to see a bit of Australia and see a few things while we still can.”

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