Over the past few years, I’ve interviewed more than two dozen people who grew up along the Mendocino Coast and couldn’t wait to move away, believing they’d never return. But return they did, to establish businesses or professional careers. Some also chose this place to raise children, to nurture them in the small town values that shaped their own childhoods.
These are a new wave of pioneers who, like their forebearers, use intelligence and imagination to forge a vibrant path. In exchange for the privilege of being able to live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, they work long, hard hours.
The shelter in place orders due to Covid-19 have knocked many down, but they are devising ways to get back up and resume their vision of what it means to live here.
They have open minds and are digging deep to find solutions.
They have entrepreneurial spirits that will spawn innovations to move them forward.
We are so fortunate to have them here—especially during this trying time.
Tom Butler & Karl Reese – Re-find Home Furnishings
A native son, Tom returned to the coast in 2009 with his husband Karl to open Re-Find, a second hand store that sells gently used furniture. You can read my initial interview with him here: https://ithappenedatpurity.com/tag/re-find/. The store became an instant success and over the past decade did very well. Today, however, it is suffering along with other local businesses.
Economic hard times are nothing new to these men. While living in Arizona, they experienced the Great Recession of 2008. “This one is different,” Tom says. “It happened overnight. We didn’t know if we’d be shut down for two weeks or two years. How do you make plans for that?”
A week before the shutdown, Tom had hernia surgery. In anticipation, he had purchased enough inventory to last two weeks while he recovered. When they realized his recovery was going to take longer, Karl took their truck to the Bay Area and loaded up another week’s worth of inventory. “As he drove home, the shelter in place orders went into effect.”
“If I’d known it would be the last time we could go out buying,” Karl says, “I would have packed the truck even tighter before heading home.”
Over the following two weeks, they depleted their inventory through private showings while adhering to the protocols of social distancing. With nothing left to sell, their business came to a standstill. The auctions, estate sales and warehouse sales where they source their products are also closed.
While they wait for their sources to reopen, Tom says they’re devising strategies to move forward. “We promote our business through Facebook, but don’t sell online. We might develop a website that will allow us to sell online and offer curbside pickup. This will be in addition to our physical store. At the end of the day, I’m a brick and mortar guy at heart.
“We’ve also used this time to paint the inside of the store and clean the carpets so when we reopen we’ll have a fresh new look.”
Tom is grateful their store serves the local population and isn’t dependent on tourists. However, he acknowledges the pain suffered by those businesses who are dependent upon this trade. “Our coast is a tourist-based economy and now we’re afraid of them. We’re going to have to figure out how to survive with a reduced tourist base. At this point there are far more questions than answers.”
Before the crisis hit, Karl had been working part-time at the hospital and recently went full time. He splits his time between the surgery department and materials management. “This has been a major benefit to our ability to survive,” Tom says.
According to Karl, “I’ve always been grateful that our community’s support of Re-Find provides us with a decent living here on the coast. Upping my game at the hospital is the least I can do to keep us afloat during these times”
As they await their reopening, Tom encourages local people to contact him if they have gently used furniture they’re willing to donate or sell. www.re-findhome.com
“It’s easy to figure out how to sell stuff. Our challenge now is to figure out how to acquire.” In the spirit of a true entrepreneur, Tom says, “If our old channels of acquiring inventory don’t work out, we’ll find new ones. We’re going to roll with whatever happens.”
I have a couple of friends who had surgery in November and December and so being forced to stay at home actually helped them heel. Businesses who can adapt and change will be okay I think. I hope.
It’s all about hope at this point. I’m so encouraged by people like Tom & Karl.