Making the Jump
Updated: Mar 22, 2022
Monique Bonner brings her lifelong dream of independent business ownership into reality with Addison West
STORY BY BENJAMIN LERNER
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY ADDISON WEST
Walking through the doors of Addison West, one is immediately transported into a world of rustic elegance. Located in the heart of downtown Middlebury, Addison West features a thoughtfully-curated assortment of fetching home goods, artisan kitchenware, furniture and Vermont-made products. As Monique Bonner strolls past a shelf full of beautifully crafted handmade wooden scoop spoons, her face lights up with a beaming smile. It’s only been a few months since Bonner opened Addison West’s new storefront location, but it’s clear that she has found joy in her new business venture. “I got my first job when I was twelve years old working at a retail store in Andover, Massachusetts, during the holiday season,” says Bonner. “I really liked being in that sort of environment, especially during that time of year. There was a lot of energy, and you knew that you were making people happy.”
While Bonner is grateful to be able to experience similar moments of lively connection in her new line of work as the proprietor of Addison West, she readily admits that she never originally planned to pursue a career as an independent business owner. Over the course of the past several decades, a series of crucial decisions and unexpected surprises have shaped the trajectory of her life path. After working the world of corporate business for 20 years, Bonner was able to summon the courage to take a leap of faith and pursue her passion for home design – and she hasn’t looked back since.
Bonner’s circuitous journey towards self-actualization began in 1988 when she arrived in Vermont to pursue her undergraduate degree. “When I first visited Middlebury College, it was an incredible September day. I walked around, looked at the mountains, and knew I was in the right place. It just felt like home.” While at Middlebury College, Bonner majored in psychology and minored in creative writing. She originally intended to continue her creative aspirations through a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) graduate program, but her life took a different turn when her application was rejected twice.
Disappointed but not downhearted, Bonner moved to Boulder, Colorado, where she quickly got a job working as a sales associate at a women’s clothing store called CP Shades. “It seemed like a natural fit,” says Bonner. “I had worked in retail before, and I really liked their clothing.”
Inspired, Bonner wrote a letter to the owners of CP Shades suggesting that it would be a good idea to open a store in Burlington, Vermont. “I was astonished when they actually called me, told me that they wanted to open a store in Boston instead of Burlington, and then asked me to run it for them.” Bonner managed the store in Boston for several years. She was then promoted and moved to Sausalito, California to oversee and manage CP Shades’ retail operations. After three-and-a-half years with the company, Bonner took a job with a recruiting firm in Michigan and soon applied to the University of Michigan’s Master of Business Administration (MBA) program. “The first year that I applied, I didn’t get in. It felt like the MFA rejection was happening all over again.”
Undeterred, Bonner began to study rigorously for the application exam. She then made the bold decision to walk into the admissions office, where she asked to speak with the head of the department. “I didn’t think that my resumé and experience was going to be what they wanted, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. I got to talk to the head of admissions for 15 minutes, and I told her about how much I wanted to go there.”
Bonner’s courageous decision paid off, and she was admitted to Michigan’s prestigious MBA program. In her final semester, she collaborated with three fellow students on a pitch project called, “Posh Pages”, an affiliate model-based home décor destination. Bonner had been honing her design skills throughout her late adolescence and early adulthood, and the project gave her a chance to integrate her love of design with her emergent passion for business leadership. Over the course of the project, Bonner and her classmates envisioned content and curated products aligned to four different design styles. They also built accompanying financial models. The project was eventually presented to a group of potential investors, who encouraged Bonner and their team to move out to the Bay Area to give the business a go.
Bonner was then faced with a difficult decision: she could branch out independently and attempt to build up her own startup operation, or she could pursue a promising corporate career opportunity with Dell. “I had done an internship program with Dell between my first and second year of business school. And I think, looking back, I’ve always been somewhat risk-averse. My parents were proud of me for going to business school, and I had made a sizable investment in my education. A corporate job sounded like the right move at the time, so I took the job with Dell.”
Over the following decade-and-a-half, Bonner rose through the ranks of Dell’s corporate structure and worked in a variety of roles. “Dell really encourages people to change functions and change careers. I worked in tech support services for a while, and I also worked in consumer marketing. Eventually, I got the opportunity to work in Ireland running sales over there. My husband, Matt, and I lived there for seven years and had our two boys over there. We came back to the United States in 2010, and I worked in several lead positions in Dell’s marketing division.”
After Bonner came back to the U.S., a meeting with a friend at a New York City coffeeshop would plant an important seed in her mind that would stick with her for a while. “I met with a friend who had recently quit his advertising job in New York to pursue his passion for photography in Los Angeles. When he showed up, he was dressed casually in flip flops and sunglasses. I told him how much I admired him for risking his career to chase his dream. He said something that has stuck with me ever since: ‘Jump, and the net will appear.’”
Bonner often doubted that she would ever be able to leave the corporate world behind. “Seeing him made me feel like I was never going to be able to make the jump myself. I had two kids, and my husband was very busy with his own startup ventures. I didn’t think it was possible to step away from my obligations.”
At the same time, another dream was taking shape. “My husband, Matt, also went to Middlebury College. When we first moved back from Ireland we rented a house in Massachusetts, but we were always looking at properties in Vermont.” When the right fixer-upper popped up, they seized it. “Originally, we drove up to Vermont every other weekend to work on our house, but we found that we never wanted to leave when it came time to pack up on Sunday! So, I asked leadership at Dell if they were alright with me commuting from Vermont, and they agreed,” says Bonner. “It was the early days of remote work and I feel very, very lucky that we had that support. We moved officially in 2013 and enrolled our kids at the Cornwall School. It was an amazing educational experience for them. Vermont is a great place to raise kids.”
Three years after moving to Vermont, Bonner left her job at Dell and began working as Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of Akamai Technologies, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Simultaneously, Bonner was also working on various home renovation, redecoration and redesign projects for herself and her friends. “I loved helping friends and acquaintances that asked for advice. Sometimes it would be small things, like picking out wallpaper. Sometimes it would be a bigger thing, like a room renovation. We were renovating two bathrooms ourselves and our friends and neighbors mentioned that they wanted to renovate theirs. They told me, ‘Just do whatever you’re doing for your own bathrooms to ours.’ It’s amazing to be asked, but it was always just a hobby. I do it because I love the creativity and problem solving aspect of it.”
As the global pandemic worsened in 2020, Bonner’s business travel was limited, but her sense of possibility expanded. Somewhat whimsically, she launched a home décor and design blog she called Addison West – named after the street and county where she and her family live. She described her projects in detail and offered insightful advice about the finer points of layout, planning and décor. Meanwhile, she was juggling her hectic work schedule while maintaining her family life. “One day, I had just gotten off of a video meeting, and my youngest son came up to me and said, ‘You know, Mom, you haven’t even been to one of my soccer games this season.’ I knew that it was time to make a change.”
According to Bonner, that pivotal moment served as the catalyst for the full-scale launch of her business. “I had already started the Addison West blog, and I knew that I needed to do something to expand upon that idea. I had wanted to start a business ever since my pitch project in graduate school, but I had never been able to summon the courage to do it.” A perfect opportunity then arose for Bonner to transition out of her duties as the CMO of Akamai. “It was truly a confluence of circumstances that inspired me to leave my corporate career,” says Bonner. “If COVID hadn’t happened and if my son hadn’t said what he said to me on that day, I think I would still have the same job. My dad likes to say that ‘life comes in bunches.’ When a series of external factors come together all at once, it can serve as the spark that inspires action. Ultimately, it didn’t feel like a risky move to leave my career behind. It just felt like what I had to do.
On October 16th 2020, which also happened to be her 50th birthday, Bonner launched Addison West online. A month later, local business owners and friends, Mary Cullinane and Stacey Rainey, offered her a chance to use their storefront in downtown Middlebury to set up a pop-up shop. “They were moving out of the space, so it worked out perfectly.” Bonner brought pieces from her personal antique collection and added them to the newer items she had procured. The pop-up shop proved to be a success, and Bonner extended her lease and expanded her product range.
Today, Addison West is continuing to expand and solidify its market niche as a respected purveyor of Vermont-modern home goods. “Addison West is all about embracing old and new, and blending the grounded and authentic sensibilities of Vermont with modern design,” says Bonner. “Throughout the store, you’ll see some things that are a little rustic, others that are more contemporary, and some products that are a mixture of both of those qualities.” Vermont-made highlights from Addison West’s storefront selection include wooden bowls from The Bowl Mill in Granville, ceramic mugs from Uphill Pottery in Hardwick, reclaimed-wood candle holders from Hauskaa in Burke Hollow, artworks by Middlebury-based artist EJ Bartlett, and whimsical greeting cards from Burlington-based artist Lydia Ode.
As Bonner moves forward with her new business, she finds great enjoyment in connecting with her customers, and helping them bring their home design visions to life. “I want people to feel like we’re here to help them. People should be able to come and ask questions about decorating and design. We’re happy to help and offer advice! And when someone comes into Addison West, they’re not going to be pressured. They’re going to see something new every time they come in. When somebody leaves here with something they’ve purchased, we see that as an incredible compliment. We want to make sure that our customers are able to find that perfect something that makes them excited and brings them joy.”
Bonner’s advice to others who are considering changing their career path and making a similar leap of faith is simple: “Don’t let the dream fade, and look for signs that the timing is right.” Bonner adds that although making significant changes might seem overwhelming, the best way to begin is taking small and manageable steps. “I’m grateful to be where I am today, but my vision didn’t come together all at once in a fully-formed way. If you can find the courage to put the wheels in motion, it will create the momentum that allows you to move forward on whatever path you choose for yourself.”