Gus Saldana

gus2At the age of 27, Gus is like a man from another era. He is extraordinarily polite, respectful, quietly self-confident, and a hard worker. In high school, he entertained the idea of going to college and majoring in marine biology. By his senior year, he realized this wasn’t his passion, and he didn’t want to waste money on an education he might never use. At the age of 18, he went to work for a building contractor. After two months, he was recruited by Williams Electric in Mendocino where he remained for nine years. “I learned to wire anything from a small shed to a smart home that can be controlled with a cell phone.” Through this experience, he discovered his true passion—electricity.

Late last year, his boss Rick Williams encouraged Gus to get his electrical contractor’s license. Rick was scaling back his business and wanted to refer his overflow to someone he could trust. Gus got his license and opened Saldana Power in January 2017.

gus3Gus’s work ethic is inherited from his parents. When he was a year old, they moved to Fort Bragg from Mexico to work in the fish processing industry. “This was in 1990 when fishing was booming,” he said. “My parents made minimum wage, but sometimes worked 40 to 50 hours of overtime a week. For a number of years, we lived in an apartment with another family while my parents saved enough money to buy a house.”

His father also spent weekends painting houses. “When I was in seventh grade, he hired me to help. I earned $400 that summer, and spent half of it on a drum set. My mom was furious with me.”

As I mother, I don’t blame her—a kid banging on drums is not a pleasant sound.

“It wasn’t that,” he laughed. “I played in the garage so it wouldn’t bother her. She was mad because she felt it was a waste of money.” He added with a grin, “I still have that drum set.”

Gus loves the freedom of owning a business. “Each day is different. I engage with clients, find out what they want, and give it to them. Some need a simple electrical repair, others need their entire house wired. I strive to do the best job I can. My reputation is all I have. From 2008, I’ve seen guys move here from cities and start businesses. One painting contractor managed to stay a couple of years before his poor reputation caught up with him and he had to leave. Word of shoddy work gets around in a small town and eventually nobody will hire you.”

Gus doesn’t regret not going to college. He’s managed to make a good living and buy a house. In addition, he’s been exposed to a wide variety of people that he would never otherwise have met.

“I’ve wired multi-million dollar homes. Some of them are peoples’ second or third homes. Over the last couple of years, one couple has invited my wife and me to dinner in San Francisco. Whenever they’re in Fort Bragg, they take us out to dinner. I’m grateful to be able to know these kinds of people.”

gusGus’s wife Sierra works for Harvest Market. They’ve been married five years. “I met her in 2011 when our local Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall needed a major renovation. Three hundred volunteers from throughout the state showed up and over the course of two weekends, we gutted the place and rebuilt it.” Sierra, who lived in Chico at the time, was one of those volunteers.

Gus was immediately attracted to her, but courting her presented a logistical problem—Chico is nearly four hours from Fort Bragg. “Shortly after we finished the Kingdom Hall, a couple of friends asked if I wanted to visit the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico. I called Sierra and asked her to lunch.” They started meeting once a month in Chico. “A couple months later, I told my dad I was going to marry this girl.” Almost exactly a year after meeting her—on September 15, 2012—they were married.

In 2015, they bought a house. Two years after that, he started his business. “I had to quickly learn of the financial aspects about owning a business.” He’s also trying to figure out how to hire employees. He’s considering his 20-year-old brother. “Before I do that, I have to learn how to treat him as an employee, not a sibling.”

Gus laments, “I’m looking for good employees and can’t find them. We’re living in an age where nobody wants to work.” While it may seem that Gus has a pretty sweet deal—owning a successful electrical contracting business at such a young age—he’s paid his dues over the past nine years. “I’ve crawled through mud under many houses. I used to be afraid of spiders, but I’ve had so many on my face that they don’t bother me anymore. I’ve run into skunks and raccoons, even found dead animals.” He was often the one called upon to go out in the middle of the night to fix a problem.

Helping customers design lighting for their homes is Gus’s favorite part of his job. “Lighting can affect someone’s mood. Sometimes an architect will design a house, but the lighting plans are vague. I love when that happens because I can sit down with a client and ask about their habits, what styles they like. When I shop for fixtures, I try to find the best deals.”

Gus notes both negative and positive changes in Fort Bragg over the years. “It used to be safer—more people lock their doors now. It’s also louder—there are more tourists. I don’t drive on Main Street during the summer. I try to shop local as much as possible, but there are fewer shops now.” On the positive side, “There are people moving here who want to build or remodel a home. I have clients who work for large companies that allow them to work remotely. They can live anywhere in the world and choose to live here.”

Gus is grateful to have found a career he enjoys. Given his work ethic and passion for what he does, there is no doubt his business will continue to grow and prosper. He is a true asset to our local community.

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Sarena Breed

sarena8When Sarena unlocked the doors to the Frame Mill Artworks on the morning of March 22, 2017, she excited and nervous. The previous owner Robyn Koski had helped make the transition as smooth as possible, but there was so much Sarena didn’t know, like the flow of the business or the nuances of her employees. Her nerves were further rattled when a supply truck pulled up to make a big delivery.

Up to now, Sarena had shied away from taking risks. For 10 years she worked nights at the Stanford Inn while her husband Sean Barrett worked days at Family Tree Service. This schedule made one of them available to care for their daughter Holiday. A few years ago, Sarena began to yearn for more. “I needed to create a different idea for how to do life, to find a career that feeds my soul. A friend asked what kind of role model I wanted to be for my daughter. I realized I want her to see me as a business owner.”

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Patricia Breed

Sarena channeled the courage of her foremothers to fulfill this vision. Her great-grandmother divorced her husband when such a thing was unthinkable and supported her family by running boardinghouses. Her paternal grandmother emigrated from the Philippines, worked at the post office, lived frugally, and put her money into San Francisco rental properties. Her maternal grandmother was a professional photographer and actress who also invested in real estate. Sarena’s mother Patricia Breed managed to become an artist and poet while raising six children over a span of 42 years.

***

In 1985, Sarena’s family moved to Fort Bragg where she entered her senior year of high school. “It was uncommon for new families to come to the area, and I felt like an outsider. Before me, the newest kid in my class arrived in sixth grade. All the other kids had long established friendships. I couldn’t wait to finish high school and get out of here.” She left for college in 1986, and never dreamed she’d move back.

Sarena majored in studio art with a specialty in metal casting. After graduation, she stayed in Chico and spent 10 years working for a custom picture framing business and making her own art.

In 2002, she met future husband Sean at a party in Chico and reconnected with him a few weeks later. “He had no idea I was from Fort Bragg and out of the blue started talking about hosarena3w much he loved the area. I liked him, but wasn’t interested in a serious relationship. I was considering an MFA program at Mills College. Instead, I moved back to Fort Bragg in 2003 to live with my parents. I needed time to think about what I wanted to do with my life. Within six months, Sean also moved here and was hired by Western ACI as an arborist.”

One thing led to another—they got married and had daughter Holiday in 2006. “We lived in a cabin on my parents’ property. Holiday was able to run back and forth between the two houses. It was a very special time for her.” They eventually moved into their own home, but her parents remain a tremendous help with caring for their daughter.

***

sarena4The Frame Mill had been on the market for a few years. Sarena’s background in framing allowed her to imagine buying it. She spoke to friends who own businesses and they assured her becoming a business owner was one of the best things they’d ever done. She looks back on this now and chuckles. “It’s like talking to parents when you’re considering having a child. They tell you how wonderful it is, but leave out the part about sleepless nights.”

In September 2016, she contacted the realtor. Six months later, she was the owner. “I’ve realized it’s not as easy as it looks from the outside. There’s the bookkeeping, ordering, making employee schedules, banking—I’d underestimated how much time all of this takes. I’m working seven days a week and thinking about it all the time, but slowly finding my rhythm.”

SarenaSarena is pleased to discover her business is part of a little neighborhood hub. “People bring in family photos and art projects. It’s fun to help design a way to display them. I’ve been warmly welcomed by the downtown business community.” She plans to evolve the Frame Mill Artworks into a maker’s space. “So few places make what they sell. I want to eventually create affordable art that people can buy to furnish their walls.” In the meantime, she’s learning how to merchandise the store with items that appeal to locals and tourists. “It’s hard because people have a variety of tastes, some very different from mine.”

***

sarena10Returning to the town where she once felt like an outsider has been a positive experience for Sarena. “It used to be ‘What family are you from?’ Now many people live here who don’t have roots going back generations. New people are moving in and young ones are moving back, some bringing families with them. The more our town can do to be a place people are attracted to—like the opening of the coastline via the coastal trails—the more it will encourage young people to move here.”

Sarena is grateful to be able to use her creative energy to make a living. “In so many ways, this feels like a gift. Robyn spent decades building a great business that I could buy to fulfill the next logical step in my life.

”I’ve been evaluating what kind of business owner I want to be. The word that continues to come up is kindness. There’s a whole ripple effect to the smallest act of kindness. I strive to be the person who starts that ripple.”

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Aspen & Jeremy Logan

aspen4Aspen Logan did not grow up in Fort Bragg. Neither did her husband Jeremy. But she has roots here that extend back to the 1920s when her maternal great grandparents built a house on Perkins Way. In addition to having traveled the world, the couple has lived in Los Angeles, Scotland, and Canada. Self-proclaimed risk takers, with backgrounds in the video gaming industry, they never imagined one day they would buy Beckman Printing and Black Bear Press in Fort Bragg.

***

By 2006, when their son Elliot was born, Aspen and Jeremy had become weary Los Angeles urbanites who did not want their child growing up in day care. Jeremy cobbled together freelance animation work for companies like Sony and Google, which enabled them to move to the family’s ancestral home in Fort Bragg. Life was good.

In 2009, son Julian was born. That same year, Jeremy was offered a job in Dundee, Scotland as an animation director for a video game company. “It was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up,” he said. “We loved living in Scotland. The people are good and friendly. Aspen was able to stay home with the boys. After a year, the company went out of business. With no work, we couldn’t get our visas renewed and had to leave the country.”

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They went to British Columbia, where Aspen had been raised. “My parents met in Berkeley and were part of the ‘back to the land’ movement in the seventies. They bought 120 acres in Clearwater, British Columbia, and lived in a cabin with no electricity or running water. My dad worked for the forest service, so we moved around a bit before settling in Victoria when I was sixteen years old.”

In Victoria, Aspen worked as a producer for a small video game company and Jeremy became a stay-at-home dad. In 2012, she was hired by Leap Frog, an education entertainment and electronics company. Jeremy took on freelance animation and illustration work. Their abilities to work remotely allowed them to choose where they wanted to live. They chose Fort Bragg.

In late 2014, Leap Frog was acquired by another company, which laid Aspen off. It turned out to be a good thing. “By then we’d been in Fort Bragg two years and wanted to stay,” she said. “I didn’t want to return to freelance work. It wasn’t stable and isolated us from being part of the community. We wanted to make a greater connection with the town and decided to buy a local business.”

aspen“Beckman Printing fit our skill set—mine as an animator and illustrator and Aspen’s as a project manager,” Jeremy said. “My mom has been in printing for 30 years. When I walked through Beckman’s doors the first time and smelled the ink, it felt familiar, I felt at home. It appealed to us to run a business that did work for other businesses. It would give us the chance to learn what was going on.”

Even though Jeremy grew up around printing, he and Aspen didn’t know anything about running a print shop, but were confident they could be successful and were willing to take the risk.

Buying Beckman in January 2015 has been a positive experience. “We’ve met a broad section of people and have a greater understanding of the community,” Jeremy said. “For example, our engineering printer is used by architects and builders. It seems there’s a surge in construction projects right now.”

aspenTheir business has grown, especially in the areas of design and branding. To reflect the broad spectrum of all they do—graphic design, web design and printing—they’ve changed the name to The Color Mill.

As a business owner in a small town, Aspen believes there’s a lot of opportunity to have an impact. “When you work for a corporation, your hands are tied. Running our own shop, we can make it what we want. We can be a positive force. Our actions make a difference.”

The Color Mill has recently been certified as a Benefit Corporation. “The goals of a B Corp are sustainability, worker rights and community service,” Jeremy said. “It sets a legal framework for evaluating a business based upon good works instead of only profits.” One example of this is their use of paper stock made from sugar cane. They also recycle nearly everything they use.

In addition to Aspen and Jeremy, the company employs four people. Aspen is active in Soroptimist and Jeremy in Rotary. Jeremy is also on the board the County’s Economic Development Financing Corporation. “We help people find financing for small businesses. It’s an amazing group of effective, smart people doing great things.” Aspen recently joined the KZYX Board.

They strive to create a climate where their success lifts the success of other businesses. They aim to strengthen and build relationships with people throughout and beyond the County. “We want to keep our shop local while creating a large design studio to attract talented designers who are paid a competitive wage. We want to position ourselves as a catalyst for growth in the local economy.”

What began for the Logans as a quest to escape big city life has transformed into a discovery of forging community connections, laying down roots, and using their talents to plan for future growth. “We can make a living and help others at the same time,” Jeremy said.

Like many young business people I’ve interviewed, the couple finds this an exciting time to live and work in Fort Bragg. “People are retiring and selling their businesses, younger people are buying those businesses or starting new ones,” Aspen said. During their relatively short time here, they have developed a deep connection to our town. They will continue to work towards creating more prosperity for the area, while preserving the quirkiness and charm, and increasing the feeling of pride in where we live.

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Local Girl Makes Good

bryna“Why of course I know Bryna Turner,” I say to anyone who mentions her name, shamelessly basking in the cast off glow of her newfound celebrity. Her play, “Bull in a China Shop,” recently completed a nine-week run at Lincoln Center in New York City.

Lincoln Center!

Gloria Steinem attended one of the performances.

Gloria Steinem!

“I wrote the play as part of a writer’s group with a very small and scrappy downtown theatre company called Clubbed Thumb,” Bryna said. “As a sort of graduation present from the year-long group, the theatre offered each of us a reading of one of our plays in their space—at two in the afternoon on a Thursday. The director of my reading, Ellie Sachs, had been an intern for the director Evan Cabnet at a summer theatre festival, and invited him to attend. He wasn’t able to, but asked her to send him the script.

“Three days later, he called, introduced himself as the artistic director of LCT3 [the new artists’ wing of Lincoln Center], and said he wanted to produce my play! ‘What do you think about that?’ he said. I said, ‘I think that’s crazy.’ It’s the sort of phone call you don’t dare dream of as a young playwright.”

***

I met Bryna in the spring of 1993 at a children’s fair on Franklin Street. She was three years old. Her brother Packie (five) and my daughter Laine (four) were preschool chums. I didn’t know Packie, but could tell Laine was smitten by the way her face lit up whenever she spoke of their interactions at school.

Shortly after arriving at the fair and before I could extricate her from the stroller, Laine kicked her feet and shouted, “Packie! Packie!”

Like a scene from a romance novel, the five-year-old equivalent of Fabio with a halo of wispy blonde curls strolled through the crowd. As he drew near, Laine’s smile widened, cheeks reddened, her eyes sparkled. Packie returned her smile. He reached out and patted her head.

Laine ripped the bonds of her seat belt and jumped out of the stroller. Packie gave her a hug. His mother Anne appeared, holding the hand of a little girl with piercing blue eyes and fierce red curls cascading down her back—Bryna Turner, future acclaimed playwright.

bryna2Regular play dates ensued, alternating between the Turner house and ours. It didn’t take Packie long to abandoned them for the rough and tumble company of boys.

The girls established fairly strict guidelines for playtime and generally got along swimmingly. Anne called them the “Little Biddies.” For the most part, each had an appealing, accommodating personality. As the youngest in their families, they’d learned to bury their desires for the greater good. Together, they were equals, and each could insist upon getting their own way—as long as it fit into the rules.

Occasionally, one of them violated a rule. The quarrel that followed was akin to alley cats fighting. No claws sank into flesh, but the yowling and screeching were disturbing. During these times, they were separated. No mediation from the mothers could manage a détente.

Despite sporadic battles, Bryna and Laine enjoyed each other. Their similar temperaments allowed for raucous good fun within the boundaries of civilized behavior, and created a friendship spanning 24 years. When we heard that one of Bryna’s plays was being produced at Lincoln Center, Laine and I couldn’t wait to fly across the country to see it.

***

bryna3In the fall of 2008, Bryna left Fort Bragg to attend Mount Holyoke in western Massachusetts where she earned a BA in Theater. She went on to obtain an MFA from Rutgers in New Jersey. At the tender age of (almost) 27, she’s written six plays. She lives in Brooklyn where Laine and I met her and their long-time friend Britt Calder for lunch. Afterward, we walked around the area, Bryna and Britt touring us through a neighborhood where mature trees break up the concrete landscape. Raised among the Northern California redwoods, they have a special appreciation for trees.

bryna4We parted with hugs, disappointed we wouldn’t see Bryna at the play that evening. In the first few weeks of the run, she’d hide in the back of the theater, near the light board, and spy on the audience. It was nerve-wracking to anticipate their reaction. Would they laugh at the right moments? Were they paying attention or were some reading their programs? Overall, the response was positive. Still, she found it stressful to watch her work being performed. She’d wait for the closing show to see it again.

“Bull in a China Shop” explores the relationship between Mary Woolley, President of Mount Holyoke College, and her lover, the writer Jeannette Marks which began in the early part of the twentieth century. The play covers 40 years amid the backdrop of women’s suffrage. It is nothing short of genius how Bryna captures the intensity of their coupling, much of it with humor, and all within 85 minutes.

bryna6At the end of the performance, Laine and I stayed in our seats for a few minutes, overcome by the brilliance we had witnessed. “My friend wrote this,” Laine said, her eyes filling with tears. “I’m so in awe of her.”

***

The precision with which Bryna partook in childhood games is evident in this play, which was described in a glowing review by the New York Times as “pugnacious, tender and gloriously funny….” We were thrilled to witness the success of a gifted artist who is also a highly intelligent and compassionate human being.

This is just the beginning of Bryna’s bright career. LCT3 is paying her a commission to write her next play. In June, there will be a reading of her play “Carlo at the Wedding” at the Abingdon Theatre in New York City.

I am honored to know Bryna Turner. I hope she forgives me for dropping her name from time to time.

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Josh Morsell

Josh3When Josh’s girlfriend Lia Wilson told me what he does for a living, I simply had to meet him.

He happens to be . . . are you ready . . . ?

A private investigator!

As in Magnum PI—only in his case it’s Morsell PI.

For the past five years, Josh has done his PI work through the San Francisco office of the Mintz Group, a New York-based firm with offices around the world. In April 2016, he chose to return to the Mendocino Coast and work for the Mintz Group remotely. “I feel like I’m part of a group of people who grew up here and seem tied to this area by a rubber band. We go far away into the world and come back to bring energy to the place we love.”

Josh graduated from Mendocino Community High School in 1994 and went to Brown University in Rhode Island where he majored in Art and Semiotics (I had to ask him how to spell this). “Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols, and is really a combination of critical theory, art history, media studies and philosophy, directed toward understanding how meaning is produced in a society. Half my major was making art—experimental video and film—and the other half was exploring how art functions in cultures.” He grew up without a television and wanted to explore a medium he was unfamiliar with in a part of the country he was unfamiliar with. “I wanted a challenge.”

After college ended in 1998, he and longtime friend John Bacon took to the road to find a place to live. “We drove up the coast to Seattle and then to Montana. We turned around and settled in Seattle. It was during the summer and the weather was gorgeous and beguiling. Then, our first winter, it rained 93 straight days.” They established a collective, a house where residents not only shared the rent and utilities, but also the domestic chores. “People took turns cooking dinner and we’d all sit down and share the meal.”

Josh1Josh worked three part-time internships. He monitored the news and developed press kits for Environmental Media Services, a non-profit environmental public relations firm. He worked for filmmaker John de Graaf in coordinating the first Equinox Environmental Film Festival (later named for Hazel Wolf), soliciting in-kind donations and arranging other details. At Grist Magazine, which was just launching for the first time, he recruited cartoonists. Then he took a full-time job as an environmental organizer with Save Our Wild Salmon, advocating for the removal of the Snake River dams.

The dismal Seattle weather took its toll and he left in January 2000 to travel with friends for three months through Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico. He returned to Mendocino in the spring. He planned to stay a short time and work to save money to travel. He ended up staying three years.

“It was really lively in Mendocino. A lot of my friends were living here at that time. It was boisterous and fun.”

Josh learned web design from Tai Leventhal and helped people design websites. He also worked for the filmmaker Oleg Harencar, who had formerly run the Regional Occupational Program (ROP) video program. He helped Harencar make the feature film Bloodlines.

“I had a good time in Mendocino, but by 2004 I needed to expand my horizons.” He moved to the Bay Area where he worked as a researcher and paralegal for Dennis Cunningham, a civil rights attorney who specialized in police misconduct cases. “Dennis was like a superhero—he could bring these righteous cases against very long odds and win.”

Josh loved this job. “It was exciting and interesting. I felt I was helping a vulnerable population. We brought pressure to help the law enforcement system to function better, to be more humane.”

Josh also assisted Cunningham with the case of Judi Bari—an environmental activist from Mendocino County whose car was blown up by a pipe bomb (with her in it). She was accused by the FBI of transporting explosives. Bari hired Cunningham to file a federal civil rights suit claiming the FBI and police officers falsely arrested her and partner Darryl Cherney and attempted to frame them as terrorists. “By the time this went to trial,” he said, “I was writing a book about the case.” He has worked hard on the book ever since, and today has an agent who is shopping the book for publication.

In 2008, Josh enrolled in an MFA Creative Non-Fiction program at the University of Minneapolis Twin Cities. He chose the program because of the quality of the instructors, the length (three years as opposed to two), and receipt of full funding. He loved the writing community he found there, and he enjoyed Minneapolis despite the extreme winter weather. “It’s a very livable city, but I always knew I’d come back to Northern California.”

Josh2In August 2011, he moved to Berkeley and became a private investigator with the Mintz Group, a multinational firm. A friend referred him, but he got the job because of his law office and writing experience. “We conduct a variety of investigations, none having to do with cheating spouses.” He laughs. “We focus mainly on three areas: due diligence, including extensive background checks on candidates for high level corporate jobs, and background checks prior to business deals; disputes, which means uncovering whatever it is lawyers need to know for a given lawsuit; and anticorruption. Under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, it is illegal for American companies to pay bribes to win job bids in foreign countries. Sometimes companies will contact us to investigate the practices of their employees abroad. We have offices in Asia, Latin America and Africa, as well as the U.S., Canada and London.”

Josh says, “I like that my job allows me to learn about the world each day.” He feels fortunate to be able to do the job from Fort Bragg. “There’s so much pressure in the Bay Area. I started to feel discontented—like a frog in a pot of water that was slowly rising to a boiling point. Living here is much more affordable. I’m close to family and friends. Instead of spending an hour on BART after work, I can go to the beach or plant a garden.”

Josh sees himself and Lia as the start of a movement of people who, given the opportunity to work remotely, will leave big cities in favor of living in our coastal area. “As high-speed internet becomes more accessible in Mendocino County, people will bring big city incomes with them. Remote workers can be one piece of an experiment to bring prosperity to our entire community in the new economy. We need to plan for smart growth. We have wonderful potential here—the combination of wild remoteness with the ability to build the infrastructure of the future.”

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Kerry Hagan

kerryAs a teenager, Kerry devoured Vogue magazine. “Fashion is an art form—not just something to cover your body with,” she said. “From runway couture to black yoga pants, it gives you an opportunity to express your inner self in ways large and small, obvious and subtle.”

Growing up, she loved to dress in quirky outfits and experiment with outrageous hairdos. Her parents were tolerant. “My mom’s only rule was that my hair be dyed a single color for school photos and whenever we visited grandma,” Kerry said with a hearty laugh. “I was labeled a weirdo in high school because of the way I dressed. I hated it here and couldn’t wait to get out.”

kerry2Because of her deep love of fashion, it makes sense that Kerry would eventually own a clothing store. But first she would graduate from high school and tear out of town to travel the country before returning to hold two to three jobs at the same time in order to make a living.

After graduating in 1995, she moved to Seattle and attended an art institute for a couple of years before deciding to take several months off to go “road tripping” with a friend. They traveled through the Southwest and Texas to land in their ultimate destination: New Orleans. “We stayed for a month in a kind of flophouse over a dive bar. The plan was to stay longer, but the living conditions were pretty bleak. It was very tragic, dirty and old-timey—and I suppose very romantic to a 21 year old.” She laughs at the memory.

They moved on to Florida, then headed back west via the upper Midwest and Montana. “We stopped again in Seattle and I really wanted to stay, but I was broke and decided to return to Fort Bragg where I’d work for a while, save some money and move away for good.”

In 1999, Kerry moved to Marin where she worked for a florist. A couple of months later, her grandmother’s health deteriorated and she returned to Fort Bragg to take care of her for the next two years. Since that time, she has been an assistant for two business professionals, a clerk and manager of Tangents, a short order breakfast cook at Dolphin Isle, a wait person at Piaci Pizza, and a clerk at Mendocino Vintage. She also scoured yard sales and sold some of her bounty on eBay. She often did two or more of these jobs at the same time.

“As the manager of Tangents, I learned how buy for the store. I went to trade shows and the garment industry in Los Angeles. It was a very busy store and I loved working there.”

kerry5In 2011, Hilary White asked her to work one day a week at If the Shoe Fits—a consignment clothing shop on Franklin Street. “A year later, Hilary took me to dinner and said she was buying Understuff. She added, ‘I want you to buy If the Shoe Fits.’

“It made perfect sense. Hilary didn’t want to see the store close and I didn’t want to go back to restaurant work.” In October 2012, she bought the store. “I really like clothes. I find the rotations and cycles of fashion interesting and fun. I call myself a clothing hunter-gatherer.” She lets out a hearty laugh. “The back room is filled with vintage clothing I’ve collected over the years.”

The store has evolved into a balance of new and consignment clothing. Her customers are fairly evenly divided between locals and tourists. “Even though the store has been here 10 years, I get at least one person every week or two who walks in and says she didn’t know I was here.” She laughs and rolls her eyes.

Kerry has a demonstrated ability to work hard and be successful. She and her partner Dave Simons have joined forces with others to develop Overtime Brewing, a brewery kerry3and taproom with food currently under construction on Elm Street (north of town near the old bowling alley). They hope to open in early summer 2017. When that happens, she’ll work three to four evenings a week in addition to running her store. When I marvel at her ambition, she says, “I’ve never been afraid of having multiple jobs.”

Kerry acknowledges that Fort Bragg has changed in many ways over the years. “One thing that remains the same is that it’s still economically depressed. I’ve attended City Council and Planning Commission meetings over the past year. I’ve learned that I’m woefully uninformed, as are most people. I want to stay involved and help our city. City officials are doing all they can to improve things. It’s not as fast as some people would like, but change takes time.

“I’d like to see us embrace our quirkiness, our small town-ness. It would be great to have more music and art festivals. I’d love to organize a fashion show on First Fridays and help someone put on a Mermaid Parade like the one they do in Brooklyn.”

In the meantime, Kerry will continue to add to our local economy by bringing affordable fashion to the people of Fort Bragg and adding a hip new place for them to enjoy a brewski, good food, live music, and her generous good humor.

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Laura Lee Celeri

laura5I met Laura Lee 24 years ago when she was 19 years old. I was captivated by her name—one that seems suited to a line of specialty dairy products—perhaps yogurts and cheeses—some type of creamery to reflect her wholesome sweetness. From our very first meeting, I could tell she is a person who leads from the heart.

Similar to my previous interviewees, Laura grew up here, but unlike them she never had the urge to leave. “I’m a small town kid and love it here.”

Our friendship grew along with my son’s obsession with shoes. Laura had recently graduated from high school and worked at Feet First on Main Street. By the age of seven Harrison was a dedicated Nike fan who could spend upwards of a half hour at that store examining the sports shoe inventory.

Whenever a Nike catalog came out, Laura would bring it from the back room. “Look what I have,” she’d say with a delighted grin. Harrison would stretch his arms towards her, hands trembling like a knight being gifted the Holy Grail. With the catalog in his possession, he’d stumble into a chair, savoring each page as if it contained a piece of the puzzle to the meaning of life. Laura stood aside, basking in the joy she bestowed upon him.

I silently groaned, knowing this meant at least an hour in the store. Laura would often encourage me to leave him while I ran a few errands.

Since then, Laura has married, had a son (who will graduate from high school this spring), and in 2007 purchased Feet First.

laura1Laura is sometimes astonished that she’s worked at Feet First for over 20 years. “It’s given me a chance to build cherished friendships. I’ve met a lot of people in our community and returning visitors. One of my favorite parts is watching the kids grow up. There are kids I’ve known since I helped tie their shoes who now bring their own children into the store.”

laura4Like most businesses, Feet First has changed over the years. “I remember when athletic shoes were mostly white with a little color pop. Now it’s all about the colors. Right now, leisure shoes are taking on a look inspired by athletic shoes. When the [Georgia Pacific] mill was open, work boot sales were steady. We still sell them, but hiking boots are more popular among men.”

The growth of internet shopping has affected Feet First, but hasn’t caused a major decline in sales. “I would like to think our personal, friendly service keeps customers coming back. People tend to want to try on shoes before buying. The other day a customer said, ‘I can’t remember the last time a salesperson brought shoes out for me.’ We often have tourists come in and each member of the family will find a shoe they like. You don’t find that in cities where stores tend to focus on a particular customer like women’s shoes or athletic shoes.”

Central to Laura’s life is sharing. She adores her husband and son and spends as much time with them as possible. She also loves cooking and posting recipes on Facebook. “For the longest time, I’d only share the healthy stuff, but I realized sometimes I don’t want to eat that. Sometimes I want to have cheese stuffed bacon burgers and share that with others.”

laura3Recently, she’s started calling friends and arranging gatherings. “You know how it is when you run into people and say ‘We have to get together soon’ and you never do? Well, I’m telling people, ‘Now’s the time.’ When the weather improves, I’m going to invite people to bonfires at the beach after work.”

Laura makes a conscious effort to create a good, satisfying life for herself and her family. She’s decided to make this the best year yet. “I’m adding healthier changes to my routine, like walking on my treadmill a half hour each day. A few weeks ago, I didn’t feel like doing it. When I got into bed that night, I felt guilty, got up and did it.

“I’ve stopped worrying about my weight—it’s just a number; it doesn’t define me. As a result, I’m enjoying life more. It’s not about what I don’t have, it’s about what I do I have. What do I want to keep? What do I want to get rid of?”

Helping her with this process is “Fly Lady,” an online program that offers tips on how to organize your home. Laura lights up with excitement when talking about this. “Fly Lady helps me realize I can do a little bit every day to organize my life and feel in control. For example, when I recently cleaned out a drawer in my bathroom, I found a bunch of lotion samples. Why was I keeping these when I never used them? Since then I’ve become a daily user of lotions.”

When asked why she’s making these changes now, she said, “I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’m 43. I love my life, but know I can do things to enjoy it more.”

Laura and Don work six days a week and make the most of their Sundays off. “We sometimes do short trips, but otherwise spend time with friends and family. We don’t mind only taking one day off each week because we feel our business and customers are part of our family, and we don’t feel the need to get away from them.”

Laura hopes Fort Bragg will continue to encourage and embrace tourism. “I’m proud that tourists choose my hometown as a place to celebrate a special event—to get engaged, married, go on a honeymoon, or take their family vacation.

“I love living here and love my customers. I hope Don and I are able to be part of our downtown business community for many years to come.”

laura2

Son Justin was a member of the Timber Wolves championship team.