Staying alive: how Sonoma County stores adapt to thrive in the age of Amazon
Heather Kristensen had walked into Corrick’s looking for a birthday gift, truth be told. But the Winter Wonderland display greeting shoppers at this venerable, 104-year-old store on Fourth Street in Santa Rosa had worked its magic on her.
“It’s beautiful and joyful,” she said of the exhibit, featuring various themed trees including a peacock tree, the under-the-sea tree and that perennial kid favorite, the dinosaur tree. “As soon as I see it, I get happy.”
Even the most hardhearted of grinches can’t help but be nudged into the holiday spirit by this fantastical tableau. In other words, serving its purpose, putting shoppers in the mood to make purchases. For much the same reason, Jeri Yamashiro Brown, co-owner of the store along with her husband Keven Brown, didn’t mind the cold, wet weather crossing the Sonoma county this week.
For Corrick’s and many area merchants, doing a brisk business during the annual holidayshopping runup to Christmas is essential to survival.
“It’s everything,” said Sam Stavros, co-owner of Urban Garden in Montgomery Village.
This year, it’s also a bit compressed. The later-than-usual Thanksgiving will result in six fewer days than last year to shop between Black Friday and Christmas, which explains some of the steep discounts available at area retailers — particularly chain stores. “Black Friday Preview: 70% Off Gold Chains” blared a sign in Macy’s at the Santa Rosa Plaza.
Like the universe and Santa’s waistline, the holiday shopping season is expanding??? starting earlier, according to the annual survey released Wednesday by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics. That study revealed that more than half of consumers nationwide already have started their holiday shopping, and that almost a quarter of their purchases already have been made. Those figures are up nearly 10% percent from a decade ago — a reflection of the bite e-commerce has taken from bricks-and-mortar stores.
How can local independent shops/merchants/stores compete, as Amazon continues to shrink the amount of time it takes to deliver packages, and exhibits a willingness to take a loss on some items?
One key is customer service. “Every store I go into in Montgomery Village, the customer service is outstanding,” said Leslie Melodia, manager of Kaleidoscope Toys, which is also in that shopping center. “When you go to a mall, you’re ignored.”
While that’s an exaggeration, it is more difficult for department stores to hire enough seasonal staff around the holidays to cope with the deluge of shoppers.
The trait most essential for surviving and thriving in today’s retail atmosphere is one that was absent, sadly, in the dinosaurs on that tree at Corrick’s: adaptability.
When Keven Brown took over the store from his father in 1992, “we were kind of like Macy’s with office supplies,” he said.
As years went by, he realized that the specialty items from smaller European vendors were being replaced by mass produced items. In his search for more unique items – “the things that made us special,” said Keven Brown -- he turned to area artists. Wall space once taken up by shelf upon shelf of china and crystal is now devoted to works by local painters. Today, nearly a third of Corrick’s 14,000 square feet is gallery space for Sonoma artists.