Katie Turner Carr

katie2I sit next to Katie and pepper her with questions, marveling at how the shy girl I met 23 years ago has blossomed into a self-assured wife, mother and businesswoman. When she left Fort Bragg in 1998 to attend UC Santa Cruz, she never imagined she’d return eight years later to become a sock maven.

It was probably inevitable that Katie became an entrepreneur. During her early years, her father Dave Turner owned a waterbed business in the Bay Area. When these beds waned in popularity and the internet became more consumer-friendly, he began selling waterbed accessories online. He also designed and began to manufacture a layered latex mattress system called a FloBed. Both enterprises allowed him to work anywhere. He fondly remembered growing up in Fort Bragg and wanted to give his four children the same opportunity. In 1992, he moved the family to the area.

Katie’s dream was to be an artist. After graduating from college in 2002, she stayed in Santa Cruz, sold her paintings through local crafts fairs, and made rent money by working at the Sock and Shoe Company. In 2004, her then boyfriend Marshall Carr got a job with Enterprise Rental Car. They moved to Morgan Hill. She worked briefly as a merchandizer for Lowes. “I was miserable. It’s the only job I ever quit.”

She was hired as a manager for Socks Galore in Gilroy. A few months later, the Sock and Shoe Company wooed her back and trained her as a buyer.

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Katie in her original tiny shop.

By 2006, Katie and Marshall decided their future was limited by the high cost of living in the Santa Cruz area. They hatched a brilliant idea—move to Fort Bragg and open a sock shop. She consulted her dad, who wasn’t convinced it could be successful. He asked her to write a detailed business plan that included statistics on the number of tourists visiting the area and how much merchandise she’d have to sell in order to make a living. After reviewing the plan, he rented her a 200 square-foot space at the front of his FloBeds store on Redwood Avenue.

Katie brainstormed names—Sockadeedoda, Sockadelic—before choosing to honor a favorite childhood storybook character—Pippi Longstockings. The tiny shop was off the beaten tourist path, but located across the street from the dance studio. While mothers waited for their children, they’d wander in to buy socks. “It was my busiest time of the day and helped me develop a local following.”

Katie also garnered attention among street people who were enamored with her tiny shop. She fondly remembers a man named Chris who’d stop by frequently, always beginning his visits with “Hey Pippi!” She hasn’t seen him in years, but this nickname is still used by some of her customers.

Katie6When a storefront on Laurel Street became available in June 2008, Katie moved Pippi’s, quadrupling her space and expanding her customer base. She was able to hire employees, which eased her workload and allowed her and now husband Marshall (a high school teacher) to start a family. They have two daughters—Rowan (seven) and Zoey (four).

“I’m so happy to be able to give my kids what I had—the freedom of a childhood in a small town. I want them to be able to play in the woods, on the beach or walk around downtown like I was able to, instead of hanging out in a mall.”

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Sweet Rachel & her great boss.

Katie has two employees. This author is especially fond of Rachel who is kind and patient. Whenever I’m in the shop babbling about something, she’ll smile and say in a soothing tone, “I understand.” She would make a great hostage negotiator or crazy person whisperer.

One of Katie’s favorite things about owning her business is the tourists who get excited to find a sock shop. “They literally squeal with delight.” Returning customers often show her the “Pippi’s socks” they’re wearing and ask to see the socks she has on.

Katie is grateful to live in a small town that has a big community feeling.  “I’m lucky to be a part of a place where one person can make a difference, where the opportunity to participate is just about everywhere. I love knowing my barista, the person who makes my lunch, and the people I support when I shop downtown. I also love that my customers know my family.”

When her dad Dave (the mayor) was the subject of a nasty recall effort last year, Katie wrote a heartfelt blog post defending him which sparked a movement in support of him.

Shortly after the demise of the recall, she joined forces with others to organize Go Fort Bragg, which encourages progressive involvement in the community. “Before this, I didn’t pay much attention to how the city was run. I voted for council members who shared my views and let them do their jobs. I’ve learned that these people aren’t mind readers. They need to hear the opinions of their constituents. I avoid anger and express my thoughts in positive ways. This gives them and others a chance to hear a point of view they may not have considered.”

Katie & her wonderful family.

Katie & her wonderful family.

Katie acknowledges that Fort Bragg has changed since her youth. There was the music store, the old recreation center pool where she was a lifeguard, a tree at Bainbridge Park that was fun to climb. The tree is gone and many businesses have closed. “I can still hang out at Headlands Coffee House, but don’t sit on the sidewalk as much anymore.” She says this with a wink. “The mill is gone, tourism is a more integral part of our economy, but we still have the beach, the woods, and a great community that watches out for one another. We have the CV Starr Center, the coastal trails, and the Noyo Center. A lot of positive changes have enriched our lives.”

Another positive change is Katie’s return. She’s brightened our town with her optimistic attitude and charming sock shop.Katie5

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Hilary White

understuff3Hilary White is one of a handful of thirty-somethings who have returned to their hometown of Fort Bragg to run small businesses. Over the next few months, I hope to interview each of them and find out what motivated their return.

I met Hilary years ago when my daughter Laine was in high school and frequented her clothing consignment store, If the Shoe Fits. I was impressed by her gentle kindness and aura of professionalism. A few weeks ago, we sat down for a chat.

Hilary believes people deserve to feel good and surrounded by beauty. “These things bring value to our lives.” This belief lured her back to her hometown and keeps her here. It is also the basis of her business and the goal of her community advocacy. She and three other downtown business owners started the group Go Fort Bragg, which promotes progressive involvement in our town. “When people participate in their communities, it adds value to their lives.”

Go Fort Bragg encourages people with diverse opinions to attend city council meetings. Hilary claims that large audiences give council members opportunities to listen to citizens. She believes one of the values of democracy is that it allows people to express themselves and to hear differing opinions.

When asked to confirm or deny the rumor that she will run for Fort Bragg City Council in the next election, Hilary answered “No.”

“You won’t confirm or deny?”

“No, definitely not.”

“So you’re leaving it open to speculation.”

She laughed. “I will not run for city council in the next election.”

***

After graduating from Colorado College in 2002, Hilary came home to work for a few months at Out of This World in Mendocino. Her plan was to move to New York (where she would rent a room from friends and figure out what to do with her life).

understuff5As fate would have it, she developed the hots for coworker Martin Nakatani. A romance blossomed and she abandoned her New York plans. They eventually married and settled in Fort Bragg.

Like many people along the Mendocino Coast, Hilary had to hold two or three jobs in order to make ends meet. In 2004, she began working at If the Shoe Fits. A mere three years later, she bought the business.

understuff1In 2012, she bought Understuff, an intimate apparel boutique. I wondered what prompted her to make a career in under garments. (Her answer wasn’t nearly as titillating as I’d hoped.) The owner of the store wanted to retire and encouraged Hilary to buy it. Hilary knew it was a viable business and didn’t want to see it close. After a few months, she sold If the Shoe Fits to Fort Bragg native Kerry Hagan and bought Understuff.

Over the years, Hilary has experimented with her inventory to include a variety of clothing—coats, jackets, pants, swim suits and practical pajamas. After the shop moved to Main Street, it gained more tourist traffic. “That’s been fun because it allows me to stock things that might not be affordable for the local market, but are beautiful for everyone to see.”

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Hilary and her equally discreet employee Nicole.

I tried to get Hilary to share funny stories about her customers, but she declined. Because of the nature of intimate apparel, she must be discreet. I find this reassuring. My brassiere preferences are stored in her computer. I hesitate to think of the stir this would cause should that information be leaked to the public.

Hilary is grateful that owning a business allows her to live in a place she loves. She appreciates being part of a community of downtown business owners who support each other. For example, when she relocated her store, Chriss Zaida of Toto Zaida was part of her moving crew. As Chriss prepares to move her store to Main Street later this month, Hilary and Martin have pitched in to help.

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Downtown crew helps Toto Zaida prepare to move to its new digs.

As a small business owner, Hilary has learned to adapt to changing conditions and trends. She feels the same holds true for the entire Fort Bragg community. “We don’t have to despair over what we once were [a thriving logging and fishing town] but we can make new things happen, like coastal trails and marine science centers. We can evolve while continuing to respect our heritage.”

Hilary is every bit as great as everyone says. On the surface, she exhibits a grace from a gentler era, dresses with panache, and has excellent posture. I’m happy to let you know that she’s also warm, vibrant, and generous with her laughter. Our town has benefited by her return.