After months of coronavirus-prompted closures, retail businesses in Sonoma County are welcoming customers back into their stores but many continue to face economic hardship and uncertainty — for some, the situation is so volatile that circumstances can change overnight, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.
Made Local Marketplace in Santa Rosa, a prime retail shop for artisan products, announced its closure on June 19. The announcement was met with a flood of devastated responses from customers and makers alike —”some were in tears,” said store co-owner and tireless shop-local champion Kelley Rajala. But within five days, things had changed: at the 11th hour, realtor Willow Peterson made the decision to take over the business, allowing it to remain open.
Rajala, who is planning a move to Minnesota to manage her grandfather’s sustainable tree farm, will work with co-owner Pam Dale to transition the downtown business to new ownership. Rajala hopes shoppers will make an effort to continue supporting Made Local Marketplace, which in turn supports local artisans and helps keep tax revenue local.
Further down on Fourth Street, the doors are open at stationary, house-ware and art store Corrick’s, now in its 105th year of business. The original owner’s great grandson, Keven Brown, and his wife, Jeri, helm the store. Virtual shopping and phone orders kept the Browns busy during the shutdown along with local deliveries, which, according to Keven, “felt like old times,” when the company had four delivery trucks.
Keven Brown has observed a return to community-mindedness in these past few months — as people spend more time at home and settle into a slower pace of life, they want to talk, he said. As for the most popular thing to buy right now: The “change the date” wedding announcements that Corrick’s personalizes and sends out is in high demand.
At the Barlow in Sebastopol, the storefronts of Scout West County and Elsie Green still bear each business’s signage but the showrooms have been emptied of all inventory. Covid-19 is the latest in a series of sales setbacks for Barlow businesses with the 2017 wildfires, major flooding in February 2019, which damaged much of the industrial-chic shopping site, and then preemptive power outages and the Kincade fire later that year.
While both businesses have closed their Sebastopol store fronts, customers can still shop Scout West County’s curated line of womenswear, menswear, accessories and home goods in Healdsburg (418 Healdsburg Ave.) and online (scoutwestcounty.com) and Elsie Green’s vintage French home goods in Concord (2954 Treat Blvd Suite C) and online (elsiegreen.com).
Kerry Mitchell, owner of Native Riders roadside shop on Gravenstein Highway in Sebastopol, recalls when his family’s business in Laguna Beach had to close in the 1970s. The property on which the family operated their Native American clothing and arts store was owned by the Mardian brothers, associates of then president Richard Nixon (Robert Mardian served in the Nixon administration and was embroiled in the Watergate scandal as one of the “Watergate Seven.”) The government seized the property following arrests in the Watergate scandal and it was later converted into a parking lot, “around the time that Joni Mitchell was singing about (paving “paradise” into) parking lots,” said Kerry Mitchell.
The owner of Native Riders now fears losing his business again. “History seems to be repeating itself,” he said. His store, which sells handmade leather, feather and beaded jackets, accessories and more, reopened a few weeks ago and has since seen a return of customers. Many of the first to return to the store were Native American, said Mitchell, and added, “we take care of each other.”
Around the Sonoma Plaza, most stores are now open — some with reduced hours. Signs about safety abound: “Welcome to Sonoma. Wear a mask.”
After weathering the shutdown by pivoting to virtual shopping appointments and online sales, proprietors are eager to see customers again. Erica Heald, owner of Perlé on West Napa Street, had planned to open an accessory boutique, Myriad, on April 1, just two weeks after the shelter-in-place order was issued. While she is excited to recently have been able to open her new store, Heald mentions that operating any retail business now also comes with safety concerns: for customers, staff, and yourself. Sanitizing hands, in addition to wearing a mask, is required upon entrance to her Sonoma store.
Aware of the recent surge in Covid-19 cases, Heald and other store proprietors in Sonoma County are worried about another shutdown. To cope with the uncertainty, Heald focuses on good moments in her hometown store, a place which customers can escape to or just “come to vent.” She wishes she could hug people but, for now, it’s “air hugs” all around.