Merchants in area to customers: Keep the money local
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By Mira Brody  December 20, 2013 12:00 am

While most retail stores are currently in their busiest time of the year and the wallet of the consumer is running on empty, it is a good time to become more cautious of where money is being spent.

By holiday shopping at a local business this season, instead of making two-dozen trips up to the mall, you are not only keeping your money in town, thus strengthening its economy, but you are also upholding the passion and effort the owners have worked so hard to preserve over the years.

Dollars turned over

“If you spend your money at local businesses, that dollar you spend is turned over several times before leaving the city because that shop most likely banks local and shops local themselves,” explains Amanda Bowman, who has been the manager at Knimble Clothing in Cotati for more than four years. 

Knimble, which has been downtown for nearly nine years, not only buys and sells gently used boutique clothing, but promotes items from local artists and rents from a Cotati landlord.

With a handful of small places having had to shut their doors in the last year, such as Brixx Pizza, Tama Rama’s, the Cotati Wine Bar and Apple Crate, is it crucial as ever to keep the culture and a personable shopping experience alive not only in Cotati and Rohnert Park but all of Sonoma County. A far cry from the blur of faces you blindly pass in a big box mart, many smaller shops open doors to new relationships and better prices.

“Before I even opened I walked around my neighborhood and went door to door to everyone in town, introduced myself, let them know I was opening this business,” says Patty Minnis, who opened Cotati Jewelers 18 years ago. “I told them if they needed a watch battery, or chain repair to come in.”

She attributes her success to “remembering your own backyard” or simply, building and keeping in touch with her clientele. By sending out annual Christmas cards and keeping away from what she calls a “what can I charge” attitude, she has been able to maintain a steady business for almost two decades.

Giving town its character

Amy Strother, owner of Sweet Pea Children’s Boutique in Cotati, which recently moved across the plaza to a new location, believes it is local stores such as hers that give downtown its character.

“If you have a strong sense of community as an owner and you lend yourself to the community, it can go well for you,” Strother advises. A one-woman show, her consignment children’s clothing shop has been thriving for seven years now, which she accredits to building relationships with those who step foot in her door.

“They know what to expect when they come in,” she says of her customers and their children. “Plus, if you save money by buying second-hand clothes, you can afford to buy organic and local produce as well.”

Although somewhat shrouded by the flurry of construction on Old Redwood Highway recently, Loud and Clear Music has been a mainstay for local musicians for four years, and 30 years before that when it was Zone Music. When the owner of the latter could no longer keep the store open, Neville Hormuz and five other former Zone employees got together to keep the well-known business alive.

More city support urged

“They couldn’t even tell us when they’d be done,” says Hormuz of the construction, which had appeared suddenly, blocking most of his storefront. Although happy with his location, he admits that Cotati could be a lot more supportive of their fellow business owners, noting not only the unexpected construction, but also high license and signage fees.

Working with a healthy 25 percent increase per year, Loud and Clear is able to beat out the big box stores because 75 percent of their merchandise is consignment, bringing it not only to a lower price point, but also guaranteeing a one-of-a-kind piece. Half of their trade stems from their audio installations; Hormuz is the reason Redwood Café has an upgraded sound system and is now able to entertain late into the night.

They keep a close social media family, advertising an “item of the day” on their Facebook page as well as a program called Band Camp, which joins musicians without a group of their own with others of their skill level to practice and perform live the first Tuesday of every month at Redwood Café.

You can be sure that when you bring your business to Loud and Clear, you are also fueling local charity donations. D'addario, a well-known guitar string company, donates a bunch of strings to them every month. Loud and Clear will then restring your guitar for $10, instead of the regular $25, and donate all proceeds to a different nonprofit each time. Those who have benefited from this event include the Humane Society, Sonoma County Bird Rescue as well as many local schools.

“When you come in, your money stays in the area,” Hormuz assures. “Plus, it’s easier to shop at a local business these days than it is going into a big box store because it’s less intense: it’s really a win, win.”

Instead of buying the same cookie-cutter item on the shelf of some warehouse store, keep your money in the community this season and find something more personable by shopping at a locally owned establishment.

“We can in no way compete with those big box stores with their promotions and advertising for Black Friday,” says Bowman. “But we can continue to participate in local events such as Shop Local Saturday.”

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