Hilary White is one of a handful of thirty-somethings who have returned to their hometown of Fort Bragg to run small businesses. Over the next few months, I hope to interview each of them and find out what motivated their return.
I met Hilary years ago when my daughter Laine was in high school and frequented her clothing consignment store, If the Shoe Fits. I was impressed by her gentle kindness and aura of professionalism. A few weeks ago, we sat down for a chat.
Hilary believes people deserve to feel good and surrounded by beauty. “These things bring value to our lives.” This belief lured her back to her hometown and keeps her here. It is also the basis of her business and the goal of her community advocacy. She and three other downtown business owners started the group Go Fort Bragg, which promotes progressive involvement in our town. “When people participate in their communities, it adds value to their lives.”
Go Fort Bragg encourages people with diverse opinions to attend city council meetings. Hilary claims that large audiences give council members opportunities to listen to citizens. She believes one of the values of democracy is that it allows people to express themselves and to hear differing opinions.
When asked to confirm or deny the rumor that she will run for Fort Bragg City Council in the next election, Hilary answered “No.”
“You won’t confirm or deny?”
“No, definitely not.”
“So you’re leaving it open to speculation.”
She laughed. “I will not run for city council in the next election.”
After graduating from Colorado College in 2002, Hilary came home to work for a few months at Out of This World in Mendocino. Her plan was to move to New York (where she would rent a room from friends and figure out what to do with her life).
As fate would have it, she developed the hots for coworker Martin Nakatani. A romance blossomed and she abandoned her New York plans. They eventually married and settled in Fort Bragg.
Like many people along the Mendocino Coast, Hilary had to hold two or three jobs in order to make ends meet. In 2004, she began working at If the Shoe Fits. A mere three years later, she bought the business.
In 2012, she bought Understuff, an intimate apparel boutique. I wondered what prompted her to make a career in under garments. (Her answer wasn’t nearly as titillating as I’d hoped.) The owner of the store wanted to retire and encouraged Hilary to buy it. Hilary knew it was a viable business and didn’t want to see it close. After a few months, she sold If the Shoe Fits to Fort Bragg native Kerry Hagan and bought Understuff.
Over the years, Hilary has experimented with her inventory to include a variety of clothing—coats, jackets, pants, swim suits and practical pajamas. After the shop moved to Main Street, it gained more tourist traffic. “That’s been fun because it allows me to stock things that might not be affordable for the local market, but are beautiful for everyone to see.”
I tried to get Hilary to share funny stories about her customers, but she declined. Because of the nature of intimate apparel, she must be discreet. I find this reassuring. My brassiere preferences are stored in her computer. I hesitate to think of the stir this would cause should that information be leaked to the public.
Hilary is grateful that owning a business allows her to live in a place she loves. She appreciates being part of a community of downtown business owners who support each other. For example, when she relocated her store, Chriss Zaida of Toto Zaida was part of her moving crew. As Chriss prepares to move her store to Main Street later this month, Hilary and Martin have pitched in to help.
As a small business owner, Hilary has learned to adapt to changing conditions and trends. She feels the same holds true for the entire Fort Bragg community. “We don’t have to despair over what we once were [a thriving logging and fishing town] but we can make new things happen, like coastal trails and marine science centers. We can evolve while continuing to respect our heritage.”
Hilary is every bit as great as everyone says. On the surface, she exhibits a grace from a gentler era, dresses with panache, and has excellent posture. I’m happy to let you know that she’s also warm, vibrant, and generous with her laughter. Our town has benefited by her return.
Omg Kate. This series belongs in the pages of Real Estate Magazine!!!!!! Please, even if you send to yr mailing lists, I would love to talk to you about this possibility. We could have each of four or five profiles like this. I have been wanting to do a story about this very thing for several years!! Would you consider writing this for us? We even pay the lordly sum of $200 to further entice you. Love Zida
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ooh, Do iT! ( great article, and now even more a Hillary fan, and have always been a HUGE Kerry Hagan fan as well!) It is also interesting, that other friends’ of that same set are too steamrolling, revamping the Golden West Saloon, establishing the newly anticipated Overtime Brewing, and there’s also a sliding scale options, professional acupuncturist Emily Head, amongst others. What a great group of motivated, talented hometown entrepreneurs! Impressed for sure. Community.
Thank you Kate. Hilary has given me some names, but I didn’t have Overtime Brewing and Emily Head on the list. Now I do!
I’m honored and would love this! I will do it for free.
Such a lovely post – so full of hope in this dreary campaign cycle. I agree with Zida – you need to get this article into the local mags – it’s that good!
Thanks Jan. I’m happy Zida is offering a forum to get this story out there. I had no idea there were so many people coming “home” and contributing to our community.
I was fortunate enough to have Hilary’s write-up forwarded to me. She is an incredible, hardworking, dedicated lady and always so positive. I am so grateful she is a part of our community.
Then I went on to read your next wonderful article on “41 days missing”. I could read these positive stories about all of our local people all day long! How do I get on this list…and keep up the good work! Lynelle
Thank you so much Lynelle. To subscribe, scroll down the page and on the right you’ll find a place where you can add your email address. If for some reason that doesn’t work, send your email address to me at
I am very happy to read this story and to know that you are planning to write more. There are a lot of talented young people here working hard to support a healthy and interesting local economy. They are also practicing the art of community. As Hilary pointed out, we do not have big industry to rely on anymore. And so, creativity and community are vital to our survival. And to a good quality of life. As Hilary’s mother, I am enormously proud of the person she has become and grateful that she is here. She is a force for good in the world. Looking forward to more stories about the other amazing and talented young people who have returned to their birthplace. Or have chosen this as a place to sink their roots.
Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comments. Your daughter is, indeed, a force for good in the world.
Delightful article !
Kate, This is an old…but great…story. I never connected to your site so that I would receive your “blogs”/emails ?. As you can see I’m not very tec savy…so maybe I just don’t know what to “click-on” , but would love to receive your write-ups in whatever form. It is so great for our local businesses and it needs to be spread far and wide.
Our “Downtown Watch” group are working on positive messaging and it looks like you would be a key player to help with this. Lynelle
P.S. Hilary and Carole White know me well…
Please send your email address to email@example.com and I’ll add you to my list.
Thanks for reading!