Tom tore out of Fort Bragg in 1988, at the age of 17. If anyone had asked if he’d ever move back, he would have said, “Not in a million years!”
I supposed this is an appropriate response from a guy who hated school so much that he spent the first 10 days of his sophomore year at the beach. “I’d ride the bus each morning. The other kids got off and took a right into the school. I veered left and walked away.” When he got caught, he quit Fort Bragg High and enrolled in the alternative school (now known as Noyo High) where he completed the graduation requirements in a little over a year. He wasted no time in heading to Santa Rosa.
Twenty-eight years later, he’s back. He lives with his longtime partner and husband Karl, owns a house, and runs a wildly successful business—Re-Find, which sells high quality used furniture and men’s clothing.
After 10 years in Santa Rosa, Tom got disheartened one gloomy January day, went to the internet, and looked up the warmest place in the United States. It was Phoenix. He and Karl spent a week there and liked what they saw—lots of sunshine and a lower cost of living. A year later, they moved.
In Phoenix, Tom held a variety of jobs, mostly in retail. He also sold real estate for a few years and later worked for Wells Fargo as a mortgage underwriter. When he and Karl bought a mid-century ranch house, they decided not to furnish it with their Craftsman-style furniture. They sold everything but a bed and two plastic Adirondack chairs.
The hunt was on to find period pieces to fit their new home. The collection quickly grew larger than they needed, and Tom sold the extras on eBay. He continued to buy and sell, and before long, he and Karl quit their jobs to manage the business fulltime. They enclosed a back patio to hold a growing inventory of sofas, chairs, and tables. They eventually turned their rental house into a warehouse.
By 2004, mid-century furniture became trendy. In 2005, they opened a store—Phoenix Metro Retro. They grew rapidly, moving the store twice and doubling their space each time.
The 2009 recession hit and business slowed dramatically. They relocated to a warehouse and were open only on weekends. “We lowered our prices, and actually made more money because our overhead was less.”
During this time, Tom and Karl had grown weary of the Phoenix heat and discussed their next move. Tom likes big cities, but Karl is partial to small towns, especially Fort Bragg (where they often visited Tom’s family). They both enjoy the ocean and nature. Tom notes that the town has changed since the days of his youth, which helped his decision to move back. “There was a deep divide between us and Mendocino. We were the redneck, working class while Mendocino was the hippy town. That’s not so true anymore. With the influx of new people and businesses, Fort Bragg has a different flavor.”
During a trip to the coast in the summer of 2009, they bought a house on an acre of land (they figured if the economy went bust, they could feed themselves by growing a vegetable garden), sold their Phoenix house and business, and moved.
Looking back, Tom notes the potential folly. “We weren’t sure how we were going to make a living.” One day, while driving to Mendocino, they stopped at a garage sale at the Prentice Gallery on Highway One. “When I was a kid, this was Hopper’s Market.” They discovered the gallery was leaving that location. They liked the space and thought it would make a great store. “The next day, I called Bud Hopper who said he was planning to convert it to a mini-storage. He rented it to us instead.”
Tom designed the logo before he had a name. He liked the idea of the recycling symbol in the shape of a house. His sister Joanie suggested Re-Find.
“We opened with minimal fanfare. I’d missed the deadline for a newspaper ad. As it turned out, we didn’t need one. We sold nearly all our inventory that first weekend.” Two weeks later, Karl quit his job at Suburban Propane to focus on bookkeeping, taxes, payroll, and cleaning furniture as it comes in. They eventually hired three employees.
To keep the store stocked, Tom and Karl make one or two trips a week to the Bay Area. They attend auctions and have a network of contacts who invite them to shop estate sales before they’re open to the public.
“I know what I want in my house, but that’s not necessarily what my customers want. I initially said I’d never put recliners in my store—I think they represent everything that’s wrong with America.” Tom laughs. “After two weeks, the store had recliners. Each year, leading up to the Super Bowl, I stock up, put them out in the parking lot and sell every one.”
Tom loves to shop and loves a deal. This propensity is shared by his loyal customers. Some visit the story daily, many stop by three times a week. On Thursdays—the day new inventory is revealed—people wait outside, clamoring to get in. He takes great delight in offering beautiful items at reasonable prices. “People get joy out of buying something to make their house look nice. They’re proud of their purchases.”
Tom does what he can to give back to the community. He was on the board of Big Brothers/Big Sisters until the agency left the area. He’d like to join another board, but his busy schedule won’t permit it. He’s generous with fundraisers, donating hundreds of dollars a year in gift certificates.
He describes his return to the coast as awesome. “I was hesitant at first, worried that I’d have to take medication to survive the fog and cold. But my biggest adjustment was having to buy heavy socks to stay warm during that first winter.” Between his business, friends and large extended family, he’s busy and happy.
We’re happy it didn’t take him a million years to come back.