Tamara Richards, who operates the Le Mulet Rouge tasting room on Main Street in Sutter Creek, has also been the president of the Sutter Creek Business and Professional Association (SCBPA) for a little over a year. I talked with Richards last week about the state of business in Sutter Creek and what the city and SCBPA have in store for promoting the city.
Le Mulet Rouge is an estate and winery in Fiddletown, and most of the wines they produce—Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah—are in the Fiddletown AVA (American Viticultural Area). Sparkling wines, Richards explained, are sourced out of Lodi. Though the tasting room has been in Sutter Creek for several years, Le Mulet Rouge moved to its current location at 59 Main Street in 2018.
The SCBPA has about 80 members even with companies moving in and out on a regular basis. “It’s been hard to do recruitment drives via Zoom,” Richards laughed. She added that her role hasn’t changed during the pandemic. “My thing is to build relationships, and the better relationships we have with everybody really give us an opportunity to work toward a common goal,” she said.
An Improving Climate
When the public health emergency went into effect last year, she pivoted the best she could to maintain those relationships with her fellow members, including using the now-ubiquitous Zoom video conferencing app. “We did some Zoom calls with the business association members and anyone else who wanted to participate about how to use Zoom to facilitate what they needed it for,” Richards said. “We had some conversations about how businesses could tell customers how to call in, Zoom in, or e-mail their orders.”
And yet, she added, “it’s really hard when you can only operate at a percentage of your capacity.” The city helped by providing space for outdoor dining and other activities like wine tasting. “Having that space outside was a gift the city gave us to let us use those two empty parking spaces out in front,” Richards said. The limited space outside was one story in many of how businesses have had to adapt using trial and error.
Today, she noted, “it’s looking much better than it was a little while ago. With winter being fairly light and the beautiful weather and how people are starting to come out a little bit more, we’ve definitely seen a lot more busy weekends.”
The Sutter Creek business climate has also remained active during the past year. “We’ve had new businesses open during the pandemic,” Richards said. “We currently have two empty storefronts and they’ve been empty for a while. Every time owners of a business decided to retire or change, a new business moved in.”
As of now, Richards said, “we have six or seven brand new businesses within the last year—businesses that weren’t there before or expanded into a bigger space. We’ve got ‘second location’ places here in Sutter Creek, which is so exciting.”
Pulling In Customers
The SCBPA also maintains a good relationship with the City of Sutter Creek. “Having a good relationship and an open dialog with the city has given a lot of insight into things we wouldn’t have known or planned otherwise,” Richards said. “Working with the city has been fantastic because the city has this amazing way of sharing things that are happening.”
With various activities and events, she noted that the SCBPA always encourages its members to participate as much as they can. But the pandemic made Richards and the city take a second look at their events to see if what worked in the past will work in the future. That has shaped the marketing plans for both the city and SCBPA in 2021.
The city started by distributing 20,000 daffodil seeds to city businesses, residents, and service organizations. Those seeds were planted throughout the city starting in Sutter Hill. What’s more, the city is offering different events and activities at different times during 2021. “You’ll see more décor, more opportunities for doing different activities,” Richards said.
The first activity is already underway. “We’ve launched a scavenger hunt through Sutter Creek, and the city did it through the Let’s Roam app. There’s specific information we give to all our guests, who can come to Sutter Creek and download the app.” Current plans, she added, are to have different activity themes about once each calendar quarter.
“The scavenger hunt will transition to another theme after Mother’s Day, then a harvest theme for the fall, and then, of course, the holiday theme at the end of the year,” Richards said. But for all these activities to work, she added, “we just need to be able to be open, and open in a safe way. We know the protocols, we know how to take care of our guests, and businesses have changed their dynamic in so many ways.”
That said, Richards always encourages businesses to keep doing what they do. “We’re all doing this together. Sometimes it’s not easy because there are so many different dynamics, but the thing is if we’re all working toward the same thing, we’re achieving the same result,” she said. “We’re getting people here and letting them experience what we have to offer. They’ll come back again because of who we are and what we do.”
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