Image: Icons owners Theresa and Albert Morales

Mendo Coast Biz: March 2019


This article was originally published in the Mendocino Beacon
and Fort Bragg Advocate-News


Focusing on the successes and challenges of Mendocino Coast businesses

In my last article, I stated that business conditions on the Mendocino Coast were good, but it has since been brought to my attention that many brick-and-mortar stores are actually hurting. Factors cited include the fires that occurred in inland Mendocino and Lake counties, abalone season closing, the state’s legalization of marijuana, and increasing competition from online megastores like Amazon.

As a result, struggling businesses have four options: keep operating as usual until they run out of money, go out of business before incurring further losses and debt, appeal to local government and business associations for assistance, or try to change (at least some of) their business practices.

Spotlight on Icons

Located at 7 Albion Street in “downtown” Mendocino, Icons carries artworks depicting captivating coastal scenery, colorful shawls and scarves, jewelry and trinkets, musical instruments and supplies, and world religion and spiritual items. Run by Albert and Theresa Morales for over 14 years, Icons has experienced a business drop-off over the past year due to the adverse conditions previously cited.

Judging by its longevity, Icons has beat the odds. According to the Small Business Association, 30 percent of businesses fail in the first two years in which they’re open, 50 percent in the first five years, and 66 percent of businesses in the first 10 years.

What has worked best for Icons over the years was carrying what customers were looking for, offering local artists’ works, and providing musicians’ supplies, especially after other music-related stores (Red Rooster and Lark in the Morning) closed.

“Carrying local artists’ work is very important to us; we feel it brings the spirit of Mendocino into the store,” said Theresa Morales, Icons co-owner.

The Morales have faced challenges such as competing with Internet-based businesses (primarily Amazon), servicing debt, economic recession, and the location, which is dependent on foot traffic. One troubling issue involves customers snapping photos of copyrighted artworks such as photo prints and cards, rather than purchasing them.

Bootstraps approach

Typical of “pull-ourselves-up-by-our-own-bootstraps” small business owners, Theresa Morales didn’t think that local government and/or business associations could do anything to help small businesses like Icons. She expressed interest in getting notified of any funding or grant opportunities they could qualify for because they’re chronically underfunded and need more inventory. Morales was also interested in finding out about local workshops, especially for digital marketing.

In evaluating Icons’ online presence, I pointed out opportunities for improvement on the store’s Facebook page: update outdated information, respond to customers who had left comments, and post regularly about items of interest to their customers. I also recommended having a website, participating in other social media channels, and publishing monthly blog posts (for example, telling the fascinating story behind various store items).

Local Government/Business Organizations

Brick-and-mortar stores in Fort Bragg have also experienced a business drop-off. At the informal February meeting of Fort Bragg merchants, hosted by the West Business Development Center (West), one entrepreneur complained that she’d only had one sale the entire day … for $20. Jessica Morsell-Haye, newly elected to the Fort Bragg City Council, took note of business owners’ concerns and suggestions.

“We’re going through a huge amount of economic change in the county right now,” said Heather Gurewitz, executive director, Economic Development and Financing Corporation. She emphasized that businesses need to adapt to these conditions.

Gurewitz explained that since EDFC acts as a lender to facilitate economic development, businesses that would most benefit from its services are those that want to grow and create sustainable long-term jobs (for example, a restaurant buying a delivery truck).

Gurewitz’ recommendation to local businesses: “Try not to be stuck on how business is supposed to be” even though it might be harder work than it used to be or than people originally planned for. Also, she advised not to try to do something alone, but rather “work with a consultant – get out of your own head and look at it from a different perspective.”

“It’s getting harder and harder for traditional retail businesses to stay afloat in small, rural economies,” said West Business Development Center Executive Director Mary Anne Petrillo. She stated that the Mendocino Coast Chamber of Commerce, VisitMendocino.com, and VisitFortBragg.com were “great local organizations that work to bring people to our communities and help business grow. However, businesses themselves need to learn about the new economy, new demographics, and new ways to be efficient.”

She recommended that entrepreneurs become more educated about eCommerce even though they might not need to take full advantage of it.

Petrillo said, “Technology is lifelong learning. Even if you’re not using eCommerce today, the time will come when you might need to. The nature of consuming is changing, and businesses have to stay abreast.”

Upcoming Business Workshop

Following is an opportunity to further your professional development on the coast.

  • March 14: Excel Tips and Tricks, presented by business owner Terri Larsen, hosted by Coast Women in Business (Caspar).

Are there other local resources that you’ve used to grow your business? Please share so we can all benefit by learning from each other.


Marinela Miclea runs Mendo Digital, a local resource for SEO, eCommerce, social media, and website optimization. She also serves as communications director for Coast Women in Business, and advisor for the West Business Development Center. Comments are welcome at hello@mendo-digital.com.


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