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.

Rollie Atkinson Column Photo

Rollie Atkinson

Cloverdale Boulevard is the living spine of the community and our local economy. From Hamburger Ranch at the north to Bear Republic Brewery or Reuser, Inc. to the south, in between are over 100 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.

Remember back in 1992 when the new Highway 101 bypassed downtown and there were fears that Cloverdale might dry up and blow away? Almost the opposite has happened. Hurrah for Cloverdale’s small businesses and our Cloverdale Chamber of Commerce. We know people sneak out of town to shop at Costco in Ukiah or Santa Rosa and others drive many miles to save a few dollars at Home Depot instead of supporting Will and Cloverdale ACE. But since it is Small Business Month, let’s think about this for a moment.

We’re sure there would still be a Cloverdale without a Clover Theater because it was closed for a few years before Kathryn and Ryan Hecht re-opened it six years ago. Now they have a comic book store and host the highly regarded Alexander Valley Film Festival. One of the smallest (and oldest) businesses in town is Pick’s Drive-In. Maybe we only get a milk shake there once or twice a year, but we’re happy that the Alioto family is keeping the looks, menu and vibe almost the same as it was back in 1923. Cloverdale Boulevard and adjoining commercial district of Cloverdale serves pizza, burritos or very fine Wine Country cuisine. Locals can get their cars fixed, taxes prepared, teeth cleaned, FedEx shipped, pets groomed, gardens outfitted, banking processed, laundry cleaned, wardrobe updated, drug prescriptions filled, car and home insurance quoted and lots, lots more.

Cloverdale has such a strong mix of local businesses that, unlike many communities of a similar size, there is a local newspaper, the Cloverdale Reveille, that continues to publish local news and advertising. This will be the 140th year of publishing for the Reveille, to be celebrated officially in October.

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 up and down Cloverdale Boulevard. 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 Cloverdale are losing 20% or more each year to the convenience of 24/7 Amazon-like “click and ship” retailing.

Take another look up and down Cloverdale’s main business district and at the nearby schools, library, senior center and fire house. If we let Amazon control even a small percentage of Cloverdale’s economy, all those internet clicks and social media marketing ploys might do to Cloverdale what we feared the Highway 101 bypass was going to do. We will see vacant storefronts, loss of local jobs and less school and city budget funds. Our small businesses are the heart beat of Cloverdale.

— Rollie Atkinson

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