Our community centers twinkle with little white lights, leaves crackle underfoot and warm autumnal smells waft from cafes. We’ve hopefully spent some restorative time with friends and family, eating a bit too much and laughing even more…it’s officially the holiday season in Sonoma County.
Thanksgiving is behind us (though I’m sure some of us still have some leftovers!) and we are ready to close out the year. Though these last few months have been rather trying, we have so much to be thankful for. Last month, I wrote about the incredible work that first and second responders did during the Kincade fire. Our community came together, as we always do in difficult times. As I said then, our community is resilient and compassionate, and I am incredibly grateful to have experienced this first hand.
The power outages and fire in October affected the whole community, including our local businesses. While a national chain store can absorb a temporary decline in revenue and some wasted product, for our neighborhood shops, markets and restaurants these losses can be devastating. Hospitality businesses are especially susceptible to negative effects from power shut-offs; without power, many businesses are not safe to open. They also have thin margins – losing a week or two of income can be disastrous for a small business.
These immediate losses are incredibly difficult. Equally concerning are the effects on more “future-oriented” industries like weddings, corporate events and meetings. No couple wants to have their perfect day put in jeopardy by decisions from PG&E. If these industries take a hit in the long term, this has a ripple effect in the local economy. There are many businesses tied into events—the wedding planners, florists, photographers, caterers, etc.—which tend to be locally-owned and in geographic proximity to the event venue. If wide reaching power shut downs really do become the new normal during fire season, people may think twice before choosing Sonoma Valley or Sonoma County for their events.
The Sonoma Valley Chamber estimates that 95% of the businesses in the Valley were shut down during the planned outage October 9th-11th. Moody’s Analytics estimated that this outage resulted in $50-70 million in lost economic output in the county. The Sonoma County Economic Development Board conducted a survey of businesses that received more than 500 responses, about 20% of which were Sonoma area businesses. Almost 60% of all respondents were out of power for more than 48 hours, which is devastating not only to their bottom line, but to the employees who depend on their wages to make ends meet.We are still working to gather similar data from the most recent outage, but logically it seems that the losses will be far greater.
Although the power shutoffs were extremely frustrating to the business community, we are all incredibly grateful that everyone in the Valley is safe and extremely proud of how resilient and dedicated our local businesses are. Numerous businesses helped each other during this trying time and played a huge role in keeping Sonoma Valley and our visitors safe and comfortable throughout the last two months.
Now, we are very excited to turn the page and focus on how beautiful and festive Sonoma Valley and other downtowns are during the holiday season. There are many community events that bring people together and showcase our unique, historic communities as we prepare for a successful and prosperous year ahead.
We can all help support our local small businesses by doing what we do best – shopping local and spending our dollars where they can circulate in our local economy. I hope everyone shopped local for Small Business Saturday, but if you missed it, there’s still time! Supporting local businesses whenever possible helps keep your money in the community and benefits not only the shop or café, but all of their employees who are likely to be your friends and neighbors.
Online shopping is certainly convenient, but it doesn’t keep dollars in our community. It also lacks that human connection—I love going into a shop and talking with the owner or workers about the products they have. If you’re able, eat out at your favorite restaurants often, try that new bakery, stop by your neighborhood hardware store, grab that latte at that independent coffee shop, and of course buy your holiday gifts locally, even go with locally made products if you are moved to do so—we have some of the best craftspeople and artisans in the world making a wide variety of products.
All of our 1st District Team wishes you and your families a safe and happy holiday season – Susan, Pat, Arielle and Liz.