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. 


Sarena Breed – Frame Mill Art Works

SarenaCovid1I met Sarena in 2017 when I interviewed her for my blog. She had recently purchased the Frame Mill Art Works. As a first-time business owner, she worried about her ability to succeed. Despite the challenges of learning to run a shop, she’s seen her business grow and is happy she made the decision.

She was surprised in March 2020 when nonessential businesses in Mendocino County were forced to close under the shelter in place orders. “A week before the shutdown, I had celebrated my third year in business,” she says. “I noticed things had gotten slower, but expected to continue to operate with some mandated adjustments.”

The Sunday before the order took effect, she spent the day cleaning her store and making changes to keep employees and customers safe. “I separated tools and work areas so everyone in the back room could maintain social distancing. I drafted a sign for the front door asking customers to social distance. I didn’t imagine I would have to close the shop.”

With her routine suddenly disrupted, Sarena says, “I felt I was going through the stages of grief. This was the death of something.”

In addition to the temporary closure of her shop, her eighth grade daughter’s middle school was closed. “Sadly, her class had to settle for a virtual promotion ceremony this year.” Despite these losses, she’s grateful that her husband’s job as an utility arborist is considered essential and he has continued to work.

She began attending webinars on how small businesses can adapt during this time.

The core of Sarena’s business is meeting with clients face-to-face to discuss ways in which a project can be framed. “I love picture framing and don’t like spending much time on the computer. With the doors shut, I realized I had no direct way of communicating with clients. I felt cut off from the folks who came into the store. I wanted to reach out and say a simple hello and give updates, but didn’t have that capability.”

During the shutdown period, the feeling of isolation from her clients caused her to innovate. “I put in a point of sale system to collect email addresses. I’m started work on a website and Facebook and Instagram accounts. Going forward, I’ll continue to expand my online presence.”

Sarena was able to open her store on a limited basis the last week of May. “I looked outside that morning and thought we’ve all been like Sleeping Beauty and are starting to wake up. It feels great to see people again. Some come in just to make sure I was okay. Others pop their heads in to let me know they’re glad I’m open. I feel a great deal of support.” Her shop is open Wednesday through Saturday from 11:00-4:00.

Sarena is determined to move forward. She’s ordered inventory to stock the store for the Christmas season even though there may be shelter in place orders issued in the fall. If she’s forced to shut down again, she’ll be in a better position to communicate with customers and offer framing services by private appointment.

“This experience has given us time to contemplate the things that matter and to reevaluate. People seem to have an understanding that we’re all in this together and are being more patient. I feel a greater commitment to shopping locally and supporting our community.”


Since she re-opened, Sarena  is looking for a framer to join her team. Anyone interested can call her shop at 964-6464.


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.”


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.”