The month of May, now almost over, is/was Small Business Month in California and May 5 through 11 was National Small Business Week.
These seem like some of those declarations similar to Mother’s Day when someone says “every day” should be Mother’s Day. So, we say every day around here should be small business day. More than anything else, it is the mix of our small businesses that define the physical look, civic energy, local employment, sense of community pride and future outlook of Cloverdale.
Healdsburg’s downtown business district is the living spine of the community and our local economy. From Big John’s Market and Garrett Hardware at the north to Vineyard Plaza, Mill District and South Healdsburg Avenue to the south, in between are hundreds of small and locally owned businesses. Most locals can close their eyes and name the roster of shops, offices, services and landmarks in geographical order. Yet, many of these businesses come and go as the economy ebbs and flows or ownership changes.
Few people remember prior to 1982 when the storefronts around the beloved Plaza were half empty. The block of Healdsburg Avenue where Hotel Healdsburg is now located was all unreinforced brick and non-seismic buildings that were bulldozed that year. We all know what happened next. The dusty farmers’ hamlet and the “buckle of the prune belt” began to transform into a wine country destination. The town’s retail character changed, some good, some not so good, so people say. We lost our J. C. Penney store, Rosenberg and Bush and Sprouse Reitz. Plaza Meats and Home Bakery retired and the Salame Tree became Center Street Deli (which is now in Windsor.)
What’s important when we salute our variety of local businesses is that we have a healthy mixture of local services, attractive retail, professional offices and hospitality, wine and food attractions. Visitors may know Healdsburg for its wine country events, personalities (chefs and winemakers), premium wines and beautiful natural surroundings. Locals love all this, too, but we also appreciate our book stores, hardware centers, health and yoga centers, film center, live performance theater, bakeries, bars and car dealerships.
Healdsburg has a strong mix of local businesses and, unlike many communities of a similar size, there is a local newspaper, The Healdsburg Tribune. The local newspaper is just one of many community institutions and nonprofits that would not exist without this robust and diverse local economy defined and driven by our hundreds of brave, historic, ever-changing or newly-emerging enterprises.
Small business ownership has many challenges. Right now hiring workers and retaining staff is a problem because of low unemployment and expensive housing. Some commercial rents and other business costs keep increasing each year. But the biggest challenges are the least visible when you look around Healdsburg’s commercial core. What we don’t see is how many of us are not shopping here. We don’t know how many local shopping dollars now get gobbled up by Amazon or other online companies. Regional and national figures suggest that local economies like Healdsburg’s are losing 20% or more each year to the convenience of 24/7 Amazon-like “click and ship” retailing.
While our tourism industry contributes jobs, bed tax and extra vitality here, the picture is a little different for many locals-oriented retail and services.
If we let Amazon control even a small percentage of Healdsburg’s economy, all those internet clicks and social media marketing ploys might bring us back to the Plaza’s dark ages. We will see vacant storefronts, loss of local jobs and less school and city budget funds. As we look at expanding our economic diversity, let’s make sure to keep it local.
— Rollie Atkinson