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.

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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.

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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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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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Justine Lemos

justine1I sat down with Justine Lemos, owner of at One yOga, intending to talk about how she returned home to open a sweet little yoga studio in Fort Bragg. I quickly learned that the studio is merely one of her many pursuits. As she described her involvement in academia, classical Indian dance, and explained such exotic terms as Ayurveda and Jyotish, I found myself mesmerized by her intelligence and drive.

Twenty-one years ago, this fifth-generation Mendocino native ventured into the world to garner a wealth of knowledge. Eventually, a twist of fate brought her home to share what she’d learned.

Justine was Valedictorian of her 1995 class. Along the way, she became an accomplished ballet artist, which led to a curiosity about the relationship between dance and ritual. She found Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts to be a place that would nurture this study.

“Hampshire College allows students to create their own majors, more along the lines of a graduate program. I met my Indian classical dance Guru Ranjanaa Devi there and continue to work with her.”

During her first year of college, Justine met future husband Grady Gauthier. After graduating in 1999, they stayed in Amherst and she worked at the Asian Art and Culture Program at the University of Massachusetts. Two years later, no longer able to tolerate the harsh winters and feeling the need for more education, she was accepted into a Master’s program in Dance Studies at Mills College in Oakland.

justine4Justine was awarded a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship in 2003 which allowed her and Grady to live in India for 10 months while she researched ancient forms of Indian dance. “We lived in remote village in the southwestern part of the country. In order to buy anything refrigerated, we had to travel an hour and a half by local bus.”

Despite the hardships, they loved it. “Grady met a young man who wanted to learn English. In India, children either go to English school or local language school. The former get white collar jobs, the latter blue collar jobs. As a result of Grady’s teaching, Shaheem established the ‘Speak Up Speak Out Academy of English’ and has become very successful.”

After the Fulbright ended, Justine entered the doctoral program in Cultural Anthropology at UC Riverside, and Grady started law school at Whittier College. Her focus was Dance Ethnography, specifically with an emphasis on embodiment in South Asian dance. In 2008, an Institute of India Studies grant paid for both of them to live in India for a year while Justine did research for her dissertation. They returned to Southern California in 2009. She started writing her dissertation and Grady began his last year of law school. During that time, she became pregnant.

“I gave birth to our son Ravel two weeks after I passed my oral exams. Grady had one more year of law school. When Ravel was two weeks old, I strapped him on me and stood in the front of a lecture hall filled with undergraduate students. I taught Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, and World Dance and Cultures.”

Grady worked as a paralegal. When he finished law school and passed the bar, he couldn’t find a job. “This was in 2010, during the economic fallout. No firms were hiring. I had a baby and couldn’t go back on the fulltime job market. I suggested we move to Mendocino temporarily. We could rent a small house on my parents’ property and aggressively apply for jobs.”

justine5Justine taught online classes—Cultural Anthropology, World Dance, Linguistic Anthropology, Anthropology of Art—through colleges in Southern California. She often worked on her laptop at The Company Store. When the flower shop in the building went of business, she thought, “That should be a yoga studio.”

In 2011, with a modest loan from her parents, Justine opened at One yOga. “In yogic subtle anatomy there are two main energy channels termed the ida and pingala—or ‘ha’ and ‘tha’—which are represented by the sun and the moon. We decided to use the two big Os to reflect this yogic principle.”

Grady started an immigration law practice in the back of the yoga studio. “I spent two years working all the time, with very small classes, before the business took off. Today, about 200 students a week pass through the studio. Grady’s business grew to the point where he needed a bigger office, which he found behind Taka’s Grill on Main Street. He’s the only immigration lawyer in Mendocino, Humboldt and Lake Counties.”

The growth of at One yOga allowed Justine to hire instructors to offer more classes. She’s been able to branch out into areas of related interest, such as Ayurveda and Jyotish, private yoga classes, and heart-based meditation. She continues to teach Cultural Anthropology online and write articles in academic journals.

justine3Justine has mixed feelings about being back home. “I was gone for fifteen years and never thought I’d return. But I compared everywhere I lived to here and those places always came up short.” She feels limited career-wise, but grateful to be able to raise her son near her parents. “I had a special relationship with my grandparents, and I’m happy Ravel is having the same experience.”

Justine does, of course, see changes to the Mendocino community. “When I grew up, I knew nearly every person in town. It’s now less a town and more a tourist destination. The people who bought my grandparent’s house live elsewhere and use it as a vacation home.”

On the other hand, Justine sees Fort Bragg at an exciting juncture. “There’s a lot of socioeconomic friction going on. The town doesn’t know what it wants to be. Mendocino is set—it’s a tourist town. What is Fort Bragg? Will we turn it over to corporations or will it be like Healdsburg and Sebastopol, which celebrate local businesses?”

Justine’s business is not tourist dependent. “I found something that fits a local need. I’ve created a community of students who love me and I love them.”

***

For more information on Justine, visit these websites:

at1yoga.com

mendoveda.com

justinelemos.com

natarajdancers.org

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Stevie Drake-Scudder

stevie2Roundman’s Smoke House (motto: “We’ll Smoke Anything”) is the highlight of my weekly shopping routine. The aroma of wood smoke evokes the feel of autumn when fallen tree branches and leaves are raked into piles and reduced to ash before the winter rains. The store is packed with an array of smoked meats, cheeses, all-natural meats, and best of all, their fabulous bacon. (When my son left for college 12 years ago, he claimed the only thing he’d miss about Fort Bragg was Roundman’s bacon.) The employees are friendly, helpful and have great senses of humor. I always enter and leave the shop with a smile.

Roundman’s has been part of Stevie’s life since her father Steve Scudder became co-owner with Steve Rasmussen in 1995. It employed her during high school, college, and in lean times during her film production and massage therapy careers.

stevie4Stevie has lived in Portland, San Francisco, and Vermont. The bonds of family, friends, and the beauty of the Mendocino Coast (along with the family business) have brought her home time and time again.

She was raised on a “commune” in Albion—a collection of her dad and his friends who bought land in the seventies and built houses where they still live nearly forty years later. Throughout her childhood, her parents said, “You can do anything you want, you just gotta do it.”

She worked hard in school and earned a scholarship to Pacific University outside of Portland, Oregon. “It was just far enough away that my parents couldn’t pop in for a weekend visit.” She laughs.

Her dream to become a doctor was squelched when she struggled through organic chemistry and calculus. “In my senior year in high school, I was told I had dyslexia. It’s no wonder I had problems with those courses.” She discovered a love of photography and film. A professor convinced her to major in film production.

With her lovable three-legged dog Sailor.

“After graduation in 2001, I worked as a film editor in Portland for six months before moving to the Bay Area.” She worked for post-production houses in San Francisco before landing a job in the equipment department at the Academy of Arts College. “One of the perks of that job was free use of the film equipment. I worked with others to make short, silly pieces and low budget features. It was a great time, but eventually the combination of the job, film making and the go-go-go of city life stressed me out. I was raised to be more chill. After seven years, I knew it wasn’t for me in the long term, forever way of thinking.

“I did a one-eighty and enrolled in massage therapy school. When I was a kid, I don’t remember going to a doctor very often. Instead, my parents took me to Faith Graham, a gifted, spiritual massage therapist. She was my inspiration.”

Stevie returned to the Mendocino Coast in 2007, worked a bit with Faith and at Roundman’s while building her own massage practice.

stevie6A few years later, she met boyfriend James Todd. “He was born in Mendocino on July 4, 1979. Many people remember the date because it was the only year his parents weren’t at the parade.” When he was two, his family moved to Vermont.

“A friend from high school Josh Tsujimara moved to Vermont and happened to meet James. In 2009, James decided to explore his birthplace (he had not been back since he was a toddler). James wandered into the Tip Top and there was Josh working as a bartender.” A short time later, Josh introduced Stevie to James.

By 2011, James missed his hometown of Middlebury, Vermont, and Stevie agreed to move. “The small town feel is similar to here, but there’s no ocean and the weather can be harsh.” She worked as a massage therapist and an assistant manager at a natural food co-op. “The cost of living was high, but the wages were low. We both had to work two jobs to make ends meet. In August 2014, the family business called us home. After 20 years, Ma was retiring and it was time to come back.

“It was an adjustment. I wondered: What am I doing here? What’s my role? Everyone fully embraced us. I realized how much a part of me this business is—it’s truly my family.”

Her dad still works 12-hour days, James is a butcher, and two friends from Vermont were recently hired. “Roundman’s has an amazing crew, provides a livable wage, and treats everyone like family. We’ve grown from four employees to seventeen. We encourage everyone to create their own flavors—like Jasper’s Famous Bacon Sticks and Jessie’s Famous Corned Beef Bangers—and continue to learn about flavor profiles from our younger employees.”

stevie5What Stevie loves most about her job is working with her dad Steve. “He’s the best man I know. He and Steve Rasmussen found this little gem at the right time in their lives and at the right time for the coast. They’ve created an environment where everyone supports each other and plays on their strengths.”

What she likes least: “Meat is a male dominated business. I sometimes feel a lack of respect from customers who insist on getting their questions answered by one of the guys. I know as much as the guys about most things meat. When I don’t, I ask.”

As the Owner In Training (or OIT as Steve Rasmussen calls her), Stevie carries a lot of responsibility for running the business and has a hard time turning her brain off. A year after her return, she started dabbling in massage again, mostly with friends and family, on a very part-time basis. “I realized how much I missed it. Body work allows me to do something I love while helping people. I feel the same way about bacon.” She laughs.

Stevie imagines a bright future as co-owner of Roundman’s. “The coast has grown and there are a lot of people I don’t know, but nothing compares to waking up to the beauty of our surroundings. I hope the area doesn’t grow too big, that we stay rooted in the small town feel, to honor the way of life that brought a lot of us back.”

Stevie is happy to have returned to the loving arms of family, friends, coworkers, supportive customers, and fellow business owners. She envisions continuing to sign her Roundman’s emails for years to come: “Stevie and the Steves.”

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Sheila Struckmeyer

sheila5Sheila was raised on an organic farm in Fort Bragg and learned to make soaps, facial scrubs, and lip balms. She never imagined this knowledge would allow her to earn a living. As so often happens in life, one thing led to another and here she is—the owner of Bella Mia, a petite treasure tucked into the back room of Understuff on Main Street.

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Born in 1976, Sheila grew up with a large extended family on the same property where her mother was raised. In addition to farming, her dad was a woodworker. “My family was self-sufficient. The attitude was if you want to do something, just do it. There were few limitations.”

Her mother had a passion for growing the unusual—like kohlrabi and currants. “In the early eighties these were novelties. Margaret Fox and Chris Kump (then owners of Café Beaujolais) were on the culinary edge and used uncommon ingredients in their dishes. Whenever I’d go on a delivery with my mom, Margaret would feed us something yummy.”

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The effervescent Sheila welcomes visitors to her beautiful store.

Sheila’s formal education was a mixture of private, public and home schooling. “For a while I went to a Hippie school where no outdoor shoes were allowed inside. We had to change into Chinese slippers, and call teachers by their first names.” As a teenager in the early nineties, she wanted to go to “normal” school and wear designer jeans. She went to Mendocino High for a year before enrolling herself in Fort Bragg High. “They asked, ‘Where are your parents?’ I said, ‘Why do they need to be here?’” She laughs. “I was taught to take charge of things on my own. I never asked them to come with me.”

After graduating from high school at age 16, Sheila drove to Washington State with a boyfriend and lived in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.

Sixteen?

She laughs. “My parents felt if that’s what I wanted, I should do it.”

After a year, the boyfriend and island living lost their appeal. She drove back to Fort Bragg.

Alone? At seventeen? Before cell phones?

Sheila employs a local soap maker to create these fabulous bars.

She laughs. “I never felt unsafe. There were plenty of rest stops along Interstate 5 that were clean and well-lit at night. When I got tired, I’d pull into one and sleep in my car. At each stop, there was a group of women volunteers—I think they were nuns— who handed out cookies.”

After a year of waitressing, she worked for the Village Toy Store in Mendocino. “The owners, Bill and Susie Carr, changed my life. They encouraged me to have a career, taught me bookkeeping, and how to run a business. I started saving for retirement at the age of 18. I consider them family and we remain close.”

The toy store job sparked a love of working retail. After the Carr’s sold their business, Sheila worked for a number of stores. A job at Sallie Mac nudged her to open her own business. “She carried an exclusive line of skin care products from a French company that required all sales people to go through extensive training in order to present them properly. I learned a lot about how these are made and why certain ingredients are chosen.”

Sheila combined her knowledge of organic skin care products with that of aromatherapist friend Melanie Knox and made gifts for friends and family. They eventually expanded their operation to sell at craft fairs.

“Our first craft fair was the opening day of the 2008 Whale Festival—the one that had the worst weather ever on that Saturday morning. There was thunder, lightning, hail, and torrential rain. We set up in the Company Store and I worried we wouldn’t sell a thing. But we sold out in five hours and made $1,000. We were so excited.”

sheilaWhile traveling the craft fair circuit and working for her mother (who owned a nursery), Sheila contemplated opening a store. Her husband Michael wasn’t sure it could be successful. They’ve been married 10 years and come from very different backgrounds. “I have a sense of no limitations while he’s more conservative.”

They met at the Tip Top one night when she was the sober driver for a young friend’s twenty-first birthday. He lived in Sacramento, but his family had a house on the coast that he’d been visiting most of his life. “We dated for a year. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, exactly a year after we met, he proposed to me in the place we had our first kiss—his parents’ house on Todd’s Point.” He moved to Fort Bragg and works for North Coast Plumbing.

Drawing on the can-do spirit in which she was raised, Sheila spotted a “For Rent” sign on Laurel Street in 2012 and 15 days later opened Bella Mia.

In 2013 her mom was diagnosed with ALS and died two years later. Helping her mom through her illness and mourning her death took a tremendous emotional toll on Sheila. “Creativity and grieving don’t go hand in hand. I felt like I couldn’t make anything or go to my shop and make chit chat. I had lost my mom, so what else mattered? My lease was coming up in April of this year. I wanted to close the store. Hilary [White] had lost her father six months before my mom died and knew how I felt, but was concerned that I’d regret that decision. She had an empty room in the back of Understuff and convinced me to move in. I’m so grateful to her.”

sheila2Like other business owners, Sheila works long hours, but enjoys being her own boss. “If I decide to do something, I do it. I don’t have to discuss it with anybody.” She makes her products daily. My personal favorite is her Mendo Rain soap. Imagine standing on the Mendocino Headlands on a crisp, clear morning after a storm. Take a deep breath. Sheila has captured this pure, clean aroma in her liquid soap. (If you live out of the area and can’t get to the headlands, order it and you’ll see what I mean.)

“I like the creative process of making things. I can be focused and completely present in the task—Zen.” This Zen quality is manifested in her store—it feels harmonious and, even though well stocked, has a minimalist feeling, allowing for a relaxed shopping experience. She’s proud that most of her customers are locals.

Sheila hopes someday Fort Bragg’s economy returns to a balance between business and tourism—where businesses are created to help young people stay here. In the meantime, she continues to do what she can to add to the economy while generously sharing her joyful spirit.sheila3