Forging a Path through the Pandemic: Young Pioneers of the Mendocino Coast

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. 


Brittney Tuomala—A Sweet Affair

BrittneyCovid1Brittney’s dedication to the creation of artful desserts and specialty cakes was revealed in my first interview with her in 2014.

A single mother of two young children and sole support of her family, Brittney panicked when the shelter in place order was issued, forcing her to cease business as usual in her beloved patisserie. “One day, I’m making cakes like there’s no care in the world,” she says, “and the next, I have to close the doors.”

Desperate thoughts swirled through her head. “If sales decrease or come to a halt, how do I pay my rent? Feed my kids? Take care of the monthly bills for the business and my home? This inner battle took a serious toll—some crying, some moping, a lot of drinking.”

The same entrepreneurial spirit that propelled Brittney to return to her hometown and create a successful bakery, made her realize she couldn’t give up. “I need to be strong and positive for my kids. I have to figure out how to work as much as I can to keep money flowing while also homeschooling the two of them.”

Brittney has adjusted her business practices by limiting offerings, which now have to be ordered in advance. An order for a cake or gift box placed by 5:00pm will be ready for pick up or delivery the following day. “Being able to conduct some business during these times is a confidence booster. In the face of all this darkness, I’m still going!”

Brittney isn’t sure how she’ll run her bakery when the shelter in place order is lifted.  “Right now, desserts are made to order so I’m not losing money to product waste. On the other hand, sales have severely decreased so I’m not generating as much revenue.

“I’m the only storefront pastry shop in town. I don’t want to take that away from the locals or the tourists. I don’t need a storefront to fill orders for special occasions. I can also become a wholesale shop and sell my desserts through other businesses.”

In the midst of all this, her shop’s landlord compounded her difficulties. “When I couldn’t pay May’s rent, he refused my letter regarding the city’s eviction moratorium. His lawyer claims I should have enough income to pay and I need to show bank records to prove I can’t. My sales are less than half of what they were this time last year.” She worries about the outcome of this situation.

Brittney is inspired by how our community has come together to support one another. “People are ordering food delivery to help restaurants and buying gift cards from local businesses. All of this positivity can only inspire more good.”

She acknowledges that the future of our business community is uncertain. “Without tourism during the busy spring/summer months, some won’t make it. It’s heartbreaking. More than half my revenue comes from weddings and events, which have mostly been cancelled. There are countless other vendors in the same boat.”

Brittney is grateful to live in a place filled with love and support. She encourages people to spend money locally. Even though much of her revenue is generated from tourist dollars, she doesn’t want to see them come here at this time. “The shelter in place order is never going to be lifted if we don’t follow the rules. My fellow business owners and I are desperate to reopen.”

Brittney’s pioneer grit is strengthening “Never give up,” she says. “If we can get through this, we can get through anything. We will emerge stronger than before.”


The Day the Earth Stood Still

InternetTwo weeks ago, all internet and a lot of telephone service along the Mendocino Coast was interrupted when an auto accident on Comptche-Ukiah Road resulted in a pole struck and slammed to the ground. Apparently that pole supported a bunch of microwave ovens—or whatever it is that allows us to electronically connect with the greater world.

Twenty miles away on that Sunday evening, the scene in this house was reminiscent of clips from the 1971 movie “The Panic in Needle Park.”

I hate to admit it, but my husband Gary and I feel we have a God-given right to trouble-free internet access. (I was once told you’re only as sick as your secrets—so there you have it.) In fits of rage, we unplugged the modem, plugged it in, cursed the red light, and called friends to ask if they had service. Oddly, everyone’s phone was busy.

A radio broadcast revealed what had happened and sparked some very serious questions: Who was the driver of the car? Was he drunk? He must have been drunk. I’ll bet he was drunk.

Why are the various contraptions that provide internet, cell phone and bundled services (internet/television/cell and landline phones) on one measly pole? I suggest three poles: one for this, one for that, and one for this and that. Doesn’t this make far more sense than having everything attached to something that can be toppled and freak out an entire community of internet addicts?

After I learned that the services that connect us to the outside world are actually provided through a fancy cable, I had more questions: Why can’t the cable be buried like in civilized communities? Why must it hang from a series of polls that subject it to the perils of wind, storms and careless drivers? Why does AT&T hate us?

AT&T's ugly building in Fort Bragg

AT&T’s ugly building in Fort Bragg

Each time I pay my landline phone bill, I grumble at forking out money for something I rarely use. Now I’m grateful. Unlike many who were knocked out of all communication, my landline continued to function. But it was useless for calling my bundled-service friends and it couldn’t access Facebook.

Without use of the internet, my business came to a grinding halt. (Despite the millions I make from writing this blog, it is not enough to support my lavish lifestyle.) On Monday morning, I was unable to follow the financial markets and check on the latest charitable works of the Kardashians. I was forced to file stacks of paperwork, clear off my desk, and vacuum my office. I plucked my eyebrows, waxed my mustache, and painted a spare bedroom.

It was only ten o’clock.

sweetaffairI went downtown to soothe myself with a treat from the fabulous French bakery, A Sweet Affair. Thank goodness her ovens had not been affected. I went to Feet First to buy a pair of running shoes. I’d once read that runners should refresh their shoes every so many miles. I figured I’d finally fallen into the so many miles category. I put them on and ran home to eat my pastries.

By Tuesday, I wished I’d purchased more than one cupcake (okay, I’d bought two) to sustain me through the bleak hours ahead. (A Sweet Affair is closed on Tuesdays.)

I went downtown, stood on the corner of Laurel and Franklin Streets, and hollered that I had a working landline at my house for rent at $50 per call. Before I even closed one deal, I was arrested. The cop let me go after I allowed him to use the phone for free.

cuteThat afternoon, I studied Lucy and wondered what she would look like with eyebrows. Despite my efforts to conceal the eyebrow pencil, she spotted it and ran into my office. I noticed the red light on the modem was gone. After 48 hours it must have burned out.

I turned on my computer and clicked the icon thingy that gets me on the internet and—thank the powers that be—I was one with the world once again. I spent hours checking email, Facebook, and—believe it or not—even Twitter.

And the Kardashians? After each was fitted with a designer wardrobe, they flew to Israel to negotiate a successful peace agreement with Palestine. Afterwards, they were spotted at Fashion Week in Tel Aviv.