Made in your hometown

Thursday, June 29, 2006

June 29, 2006

Dear Leslie,

Our friend Julie is selling the business she started 23 years ago. She began with a small store on the Plaza in Arcata, Calif. Her goal was to provide a few jobs during a recession. She reasoned that she could employ a few people and stock her store with things on consignment made by people on the North Coast, where artisans abound.

The store sold and still sells Holly Yashi jewelry. The artist who designs the jewelry, Holly Hosterman, and her partner, Paul Lubitz, live in Arcata. They viewed jewelry as art. Holly Yashi is now a multimillion-dollar company employing 50 artisans.

Julie's store sold and still sells locally made pottery and tableware made by an Arcata company called Fire and Light. The spectacularly colored, translucent dishes are made from recycled glass. They're now sold by retailers all over the United States, Canada, Japan and the Virgin Islands.

Not everything in her store was made locally. The rest just suited her taste.

Altruism certainly played a role in Julie's decision to support local artisans and craftsmen by marketing their work. The idea also turned out to be shrewd. Eventually she expanded the single Plaza Design store to include furnishings. Then she opened another store in nearby McKinleyville near the world's largest totem pole and another around the bay in Eureka, where the store has a garden center. Her stores now employ 30 people.

Perhaps the North Coast is unique in that so many talented people decided to find some way to live there and thus were hungry for someone like Julie to give them a chance. Arcata is certainly an unusual community, a city of 17,000 that has restricted the number of chain stores that can do business within its city limits. Cape Girardeau wants more, not fewer, chain stores.

But Julie's experience convinces me that many communities, ours included, could have a little more faith in themselves. Our best homegrown art is like our homegrown vegetables -- very tasty. Some of the beers made at Buckner, our local brew pub, is as good as can be found anywhere. We don't know yet how creative we could be.

At 64, Julie is ready to take time for lunch, take more walks on the beach and more classes, play her violin more. Plaza Design will continue. The idea was just waiting to occur.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is managing editor of the Southeast Missourian.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: