On a cloudless and clear day, shops around downtown Healdsburg were bustling back to their regular hum.
Dishes clinked at Costeaux French Bakery where the hiss of the espresso machine could be heard as coffee brewed, leaves crunched outside the Hotel Les Mars where a florist made arrangements for a dazzling vase and shoes scraped over the entry at Mr. Moon’s as staff set out their whimsical Christmas products.
In the wake of the Kincade Fire and the mass evacuations of Windsor and Healdsburg, retail shops, restaurants and other businesses are emphasizing that they are ready to provide visitors and locals alike with the best that Healdsburg has to offer, from local goods to friendly smiles.
Sonoma West Publishers spoke with Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce CEO Tallia Hart before many of the local businesses were back up and running.
“It is bizarre,” Hart said, noting how quiet it was on Friday afternoon, Nov. 1, normally a bustling day for local merchants.
Hart said of the fire’s impact on local business, “I think it is quite far reaching.”
That is why the chamber and businesses like Hotel Les Mars are sharing positive photos and moments on social media with the hashtag #thisisHealdsburg.
“When you look at ‘Stay Healdsburg’ on Instagram or you look at #ThisIsHealdsburg, the messages that we are trying to portray right now is that our way of life is safe and that we are in the process of being able to extend the things that have always made Healdsburg Healdsburg, everything new and relevant that people come here and enjoy layered in with 200 years of legacy left from farmers and community members and artisans who have built their families in this area,” said Brian Sommer, general manager of Hotel Les Mars, a 16-room hotel on North Street.
As Hart noted on business impact, “There’s so many different components to it.”
Hotel Les Mars for instance, had several pieces of its business impacted, from issuing refunds, to spending time cleaning, to canceled reservations during peak visitor season.
“When that happened (the evacuation) we were able to knock on each of our guests’ doors while they were having breakfast to let them know that they needed to pack their bags, that their vacation was ending short of expectation. We told them that it was a city-wide evacuation and that staying was not an option,” Sommer explained.
The hotel offered to help book guests at hotels in San Francisco or other locations if needed. They also refunded all of the revenue for Saturday night forward.
“We did refund over six figures worth of revenue,” Sommer said.
These were for stays ranging from an Oct. 26 arrival until Nov. 15.
“We had several even into December that just saw the news on the media and saw the messaging,” Sommer said.
The hotel was shut down until Wednesday, Oct. 30, a week after the fire started.
During the evacuation Sommer was able to work remotely, taking calls from hotel phone lines, answering emails and managing reservations through their cloud system.
“Even though the hotel was closed we were still able to communicate with people and give them the assurance that everything is fine and we handle our business appropriately,” Sommer said.
When staff returned that weekend of Nov. 2, they had to clean every single piece of furniture and rug and clean the ceilings, walls and floors and all of the linens.
Gas was turned on by Sunday, Nov. 3 and they were able to wash all of the laundry.
They were officially reopened on Monday, Nov. 4. They were ready for full occupancy by the following weekend.
And while getting everything cleaned from top to bottom and reopening the hotel was a challenge, Sommer noted that the real challenge will be getting guests to return to Healdsburg, hence the “Stay Healdsburg” tags he’s using on social media.
“Yes Soda Rock lost their winery but they were open for tastings yesterday (Nov. 6) in their barn. Who has that kind of resiliency? To me that is the whole story,” Sommer said.
Restaurant and bakers
Costeaux also had several aspects of its business impacted, from having to throw out old food, to buying new product and missing out on business days.
“It was a multi-faceted impact to the business,” said Will Seppi of Costeaux Bakery. “The impact of being closed for a week and a half is significant.”
He said the hits started the first day of the fire, Oct. 23, when they could not make deliveries in their 100-mile radius.
“We had accounts immediately being impacted with that from the fires and from the power shutoff,” Seppi said.
He said there were definitely challenges with food spoilage but that the company prepared well as far as completing procedures and protocol for getting product in all of the walk-in fridges, icing food down, recording food temperatures and photographing product.
When staff returned, “From a food safety standard everything was discarded,” Seppi said. “Unfortunately, it was a tremendous amount of waste.”
During the evacuations they also had to close their other retail locations and their production facility off of Airport Boulevard.
In terms of getting back into the swing of things, he said one of the more difficult steps was having to remake their sourdough.
“We are known for our sourdough bread and it takes awhile for fermentation,” Seppi said.
He said the hardest part of the ordeal is over, and he’s glad to be back and Healdsburg and back for guests.
Like Sommer, Seppi emphasized that Costeaux is open and ready to go for guests.
Even though Mr. Moon’s did not lose product, losing shoppers is a concern.
Shop owner Jessica Timmsen, who has run the store with her mom Patty for 30 years, said there are two aspects of loss.
The first is having a direct loss of income from being closed and the second is having a drop in shoppers as people tend to be more conservative with their spending following a disaster and its unexpected related costs.
Timmsen said this is especially a challenge since the business is more locally focused.
“Even before the evacuation I think when something like a fire event happens, or any kind of stressful situation, sort of what you might call ‘frivolous retail’ like ours is the first to die off,” Timmsen said. “They aren’t going to come in here and buy gifts or jewelry for themselves.”
Timmsen recognizes that some businesses financially are far worse off, however, she said it might take longer for retail business to rebound.
“I think we have a longer sustained period of decreased sales than other types of businesses,” Timmsen said. “This is the period of time where I have the most invoices due and the impact of not having sales is still very tricky for me right now.”
She said some orders had to be canceled and terms extended on items since she will not be able to pay for everything this month.
Mr. Moon’s reopened on Nov. 1 when her family returned from the coast where they were staying during the evacuation.
She said a lot of employees wanted hours, so they came back knowing that they probably wouldn’t get business but also wanting to clean and attend to other items.
Timmsen said it will be important for locals to support small, local businesses in the next few months