Last week, I saw the following daunting photo during my morning social media perusal:
When I first moved to Sonoma County it was to Healdsburg – this being the one condition I insisted on when my then-husband began his campaign to move us from my much-loved Oakland to the land in which he’d grown up. We’d visited this quaint little town a few times and had always left feeling charmed, by the young girls sitting at a rickety table near the plaza selling ‘portraits’ drawn in crayon for $2, the ice cream strolls and window shopping, the breathtaking drives through the countryside. I felt very welcomed there, and so that is where we landed.
From the beginning, the biggest struggle we had revolved around money; rents in Healdsburg were higher, and wages were lower – I made considerably less as a restaurant manager in Healdsburg than I’d made as a hostess in Berkeley. Despite these early adjustments, I fell in love with Healdsburg. We made close friends and enjoyed dinners, walks, surprise parties and plaza music nights with them; every week a sweet woman came through our neighborhood selling her handmade tamales; a group of neighborhood teens helped me move a couch when they saw me struggling with it as they passed by one sunny afternoon. I found it to be such a friendly and community-driven place that I was willing to overlook the extra efforts it took to live there. I decided that the higher cost of living and lower wages were a fair trade-off for all of the other things Healdsburg had to offer. And, at that time, it was manageable if we were creative.
Fast-forward a bit: my husband got a job elsewhere and we had to move. Upon learning this news, I had to stop what I was doing to sob for a while, so sad was I to be leaving Healdsburg and all that came with it. Then we moved again, and again, and eventually landed in Santa Rosa having done almost a full-loop back, but not quite. I opened a shop in Healdsburg, and was so happy to have a tie to the little town I loved so much. After some time, my husband and I divorced. I tried moving back to Healdsburg, but found that this was not possible for a single woman who runs a shop geared toward locals and not tourists (and therefore doesn’t rake in the big bucks).
Though I don’t live in Healdsburg anymore, I still love the sense of community here, which comes through my shop door every day. I sell used children’s clothing and gear, and nearly every day someone thanks me for being here, for offering an affordable shopping option for their families in a town with increasingly less available to those who need every day items. I love the feeling that I’m providing a valuable service to the real people who live in this town. And I was encouraged by the new faces coming into my store. New faces meant new families, which in turn meant a continued need and relevance for a little store like mine in a rapidly changing town.
I have perhaps been blind to the degree of the changes happening in Healdsburg.
Over the past year or so, I’ve been noticing some things. I did some tracking and found that many of the new customers I’d been so encouraged by rarely came back because, as it turns out, they were just visiting. Longtime customers have been coming in to chat, which is common, but several tell me they’re moving. End-of-the-year data collecting showed more expired accounts. An article I read recently about mass evictions happening in a lower-income apartment complex in Healdsburg was my biggest eye-opener on how the changes happening in Healdsburg affect me. Some of my customers live in that building, and in other complexes and neighborhoods suffering from the same evictions and rent increases.
When I saw the picture my friend posted on Facebook (I encourage you to read the article HERE), it suddenly hit me: those locals I’ve been determinedly sticking it out for all these years, haven’t been able to stick it out themselves.They are the teachers and housekeepers and nurses and writers and administrative assistants and just your normal, every day people trying to live in a place they’ve lived in for years, which happens to be very beautiful and very, increasingly, desirable to those who have More. And, to be be fair, many of my customers have been with me since their children were babies, and have simply grown out of my store. The difference now is, it seems there are very few new families moving here to replace them. Healdsburg is largely no longer accessible to them.
The uncertainty of whether a humble, family-focused store like mine has any place in a town like Healdsburg anymore is a real and very legitimate concern. In discussing this with a friend, we tried to think of stores or restaurants supported primarily by locals which still exist. There weren’t many.
I realize this is a ‘customer service’ blog so perhaps this piece is a bit misplaced. But let’s use our imaginations here and say that Healdsburg is the establishment, landlords and developers are the service staff, and the working-class residents are the customers. Under normal circumstances, I’d give it a failing review. Because I’ve had so many great experiences and I’m kind of a regular here, I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that the management has been collectively and unavoidably absent, and that things will change once they return and see the damage that was done while they were away.
If you’re on Facebook and would like to stay updated or get involved, check out the Healdsburg Affordable Housing page.
Here are a couple more articles about what’s happening in Healdsburg, which I couldn’t fit into this post, but you should read anyway because they have less boo-hooing and more actual concrete information, which is always good: