Sutter Creek is known far and wide as a must-see tourist destination in Amador County. With historic sites, wine tasting, bed and breakfasts, and more, Sutter Creek relies on tourism dollars to keep its economy humming. The sound of tourists has become fainter since the state declared a public health emergency, but the city of about 2,700 residents is still open for business.
We asked three business owners on Main Street Sutter Creek about the city’s current business climate and how they think the city can rebound after the emergency has passed.
The Clothes Mine
Tracy Lindenberger is the owner of The Clothes Mine, an apparel store for men and women at 60 Main Street, Suite 2, in the Sutter Creek Plaza. The Clothes Mine also has a full bridal salon and offers tuxedo rental. Lindenberger’s parents opened the store in 1977 and she is now the full-time owner.
Lindenberger said she was disappointed that she was required to close in March. “We lost two of the biggest months of the year for us, April and May,” she said, “though we were able to do some curbside selling.” The Clothes Mine already had an online presence that includes an e-commerce website and, she added, “we post a lot on social media and ship to those who are unable to visit the store.”
When her business opened up in May, Lindenberger said, “business was much better than we had expected.” She also noted that her store follows the COVID-19 safety guidelines for retail stores prescribed by the state. Her employees, she said, “check their temperatures before they begin their shift.”
With customers in the store, Lindenberger said the biggest challenge for employees and customers is physical distancing. “It seems that the comfort level of most people is three to four feet, so we have to have to continually remind ourselves to ‘take a few steps back’ as we answer questions from customers or visit with tourists.” Yet everyone is flexible and learning how to adapt, she said. “We try to handle it with humor and find that people appreciate it.”
Heart My Fur Baby
Desiree Lundgren opened Heart My Fur Baby in June 2019 at 60 Main Street, Suite 6, in the Sutter Creek Plaza. Heart My Fur Baby sells a variety of pet hygiene products, clothing, and apparel, as well as apparel for pet owners.
Lundgren, who appears in the photo below, rapidly adapted after the stay at home order went into effect in March. “I had to close for three months and I started to make masks,” she said, “because pet apparel and what I sell are not a high priority in a time like we have experienced.” Mask sales helped keep her business afloat until her store reopened in May. What’s more, “I also have a website that customers can purchase from,” she said.
Today, Lundgren said, “my sales have been down about 30 percent overall” since her reopening but, she noted, “surprisingly people are still spending money and are looking to support local small businesses.”
Lundgren said she has adapted well to the requirements for retail stores. “I follow the guidelines willingly,” she said. “I wear a mask. I ask all my customers to wear a mask. I have hand sanitizer available before they enter the store as well as when they exit.” She does this, she added, because “we all want the same thing—to get back to normal.”
Makers on Main Amador
Phil and Lindsey Ashworth own and operate Makers on Main Amador at 54 Main Street. Their new shop opened on July 2, and they are currently open from Thursdays through Sundays. Unlike Lindenberger and Lundgren, the Ashworths own other companies that help support them financially. Phil owns a real estate appraisal company and Lindsey owns Sutter Creek Creations.
Phil Ashworth said they were thinking about opening Makers on Main Amador for years. “Our area has an abundance of skilled artists and craftspeople who do not already sell their goods in local shops,” Ashworth said. So, he added, the focus of the store is “providing more locally made goods to our community and visitors. We believe in shopping small and shopping local.”
Ashworth said the decision to open in Sutter Creek was an easy one because the Ashworths have lived in Sutter Creek since 2006. “Sutter Creek is our home,” Ashworth said. “We hope our shop becomes a place for everyone and helps foster the arts and the value of handmade items in our community.”
To do that, Ashworth said, they currently have 20 artists selling their wares at Makers on Main Amador and are working to get more. “We have makers that do tie-dye, serving boards, cutting boards, art, children’s clothing, soap, adult clothing, kitchen accessories, pottery, candles, metal beer and wine openers, and so on.”
What’s more, Ashworth said, “we will also be carrying children’s toys, but those will not be made by a maker, they will be supplied by Melissa And Doug, a California-based toy company.” The goal of having all these creators’ wares in one place, Ashworth added, is that “anyone can walk into the shop and find an item that they like.”
Ashworth said they require a limited number of people in the store, and all people who come inside must use face coverings. “We understand that some people have health problems that may prevent them from safely wearing a mask. In that case, we will provide a sanitized face shield for those guests to borrow while they are shopping with us.” If a face shield doesn’t work, Ashworth added, “we will make reasonable accommodations for them, like curbside pick-up, for example.”
Lindenberger noted that there are several things the city is doing right in response to the public health emergency, most importantly the city’s small business loan program. “Sutter Creek worked hard on a project to offer small forgivable loans to businesses in need,” she said. Lundgren agreed and added, “That was a very nice surprise and it definitely helped. Support even on a small level was huge.”
Lundgren also highlighted the city’s strong enforcement of health protocols, including the requirement that people wear masks. Ashworth noted that this enforcement has also caused governmental delays. “The biggest challenge to opening the shop during this pandemic,” he said, “is that the permit and licensing processes locally and statewide have been slowed down, which is understandable.”
What more can Sutter Creek do? “Improve marketing,” Lindenberger said. She elaborated that the city needs to help business owners with online marketing. “Even with our locals, I’ll often hear that they didn’t know they could get an item or brand they were seeking in a local shop,” she said. “We could bridge that gap more effectively with a strong online presence for our retail businesses. I think the city could help by finding educational resources aimed at a demographic that began their businesses before social media existed and online selling became so important.”
Lundgren added that the city also needs to have “more of a presence on social media so tourists are aware we have a lot of opened stores operating and obeying the guidelines, as well as having new stores open despite the pandemic.”
Makers on Main Amador is one of those new stores. And despite the challenges brought by the pandemic, Phil and Lindsey Ashworth said they aren’t deterred. “We love our county,” Phil said, “and the thought of opening a shop anywhere else never crossed our minds.”
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