It’s Sunday Nov. 3 in downtown Healdsburg, one of Sonoma County’s premier food, wine and retail destinations.
Just days earlier, the wind-whipped Kincade fire was spreading fear and disruption in this area as it threatened the town itself as well as the surrounding landscape, causing mass-evacuations and extended power outages. But on this sunny Sunday afternoon, there’s no sign of disaster: not a burned building or scorched patch of land in sight — you can’t even smell the smoke. If it wasn’t for the news van parked on a quiet block and a large piece of paper and a couple of sharpies on a sidewalk — an opportunity to scrawl thank you notes to first responders — you would never guess what had just transpired here. Still, the usually busy shopping and sipping district around the downtown plaza is desolate. Aside from a few bar goers and shopkeepers seated inside their stores, hoping to win back customers after a week of being closed, Healdsburg is eerily empty.
Susan Graf, of Susan Graf Limited, has enjoyed 22 years of retail success in her Healdsburg store, but says her business is now in its third year of losing critical sales during the typically bustling harvest season. The 2017 fires, last year’s Camp fire, and now the Kincade fire have kept away wine buyers, who normally would shop her European clothing lines. Graf—whose design credits include a successful partnership with a German designer to create exclusive and popular “techno pants”—says small businesses like hers “don’t have the deep pockets” to withstand these kinds of losses.
A few doors down from Susan Graf Limited, at Copperfield’s Books, bookseller Mary Lou Smith thanks shoppers for their purchases and shares a hopeful story: a San Francisco couple and their two young children came in and purchased over $200 worth of books. “We don’t normally purchase hardcover books, but we wanted to support you,” Smith recounts the couple saying.
Grace and Oliver Estrada of Scout West County, located just north of the Healdsburg plaza, have seen a downturn in sales for the second time in just a few months. The past week’s closure due to mandatory evacuation orders was preceded by the February floods, which damaged numerous stores in Guerneville and Sebastopol’s The Barlow, where the couple’s second store is located. While the flooding didn’t damage their Sebastopol store, the way it did neighboring businesses such as Tamarind and Adele Stoll, it nevertheless made business dwindle to a trickle as shoppers avoided the area weeks and months thereafter.
The Estradas, like other storeowners, have turned to Instagram to encourage people to shop local: “At a time like this…even the smallest purchase helps your local businesses recover and thrive,” they said in a recent post.
While the road to recovery may be long and complex, and there are a variety of ways in which the public can help, it’s clear that the simple act of “shopping local” can have an immediate impact on businesses in Healdsburg, Geyserville, and Windsor, as well as other local areas affected by the Kincade fire and power shutoffs. Check our shopping section for tips on places to visit.