After more than a decade owning and operating a retail store on the Sonoma Plaza, Marc and Donna Eremian will be closing Kane, their West Napa Street menswear shop, at the end of December.
“Sonoma is a challenging place to run a retail business for lots of different reasons,” said Marc Eremian.
The couple aren’t new to retail. They have owned North Bay Gallery in Yountville since 2001 and a shop by the same name in Sonoma from 2006 to 2014. They tried out the Kane concept in Yountville first in 2008.
“The store and its mix of brands was successful in Yountville, so we thought that we could recreate that success here,” said Marc Eremian. Kane opened in Sonoma in mid-2014.
The couple were both born and raised in Honolulu; “kane” means “man” in Hawaiian.
They got off to a strong start, having found a right-hand man in local Jim Elliott, who became the general manager of the Sonoma location. Elliott helped build a small but loyal clientele who were very complimentary of the store from day one, said Eremian.
“We knew it would take time to grow the business, and we were seeing growth, some loyal repeat customers, but not nearly what we expected,” he said. “Our closing really came down to a combination of factors.”
Donna Eremian said that the store was on an upward trend until last October’s fires. The store closed for a week, but when it reopened, the business just never recovered. October is generally the biggest month for retail stores in Sonoma because of all the visitors in town for harvest events.
“October’s like our Christmas,” Marc said. “We had a lot of merchandise coming in for both stores, for the gallery and then all of a sudden, we have all this inventory and no customers. No tourists, and locals here weren’t buying anything post fires.”
So, due to the fires, the biggest months of the year were lost, say the Eremians, and in the months that followed, the business just never fully recovered.
A year later, Donna said she was beginning to see a glimmer of hope. And then in early November, the fires broke out in Butte County.
“Just as visitor foot traffic was starting to come back, we had all the smoke from those fires and nobody was out walking around the Plaza,” she said. “It was like taking a giant step backward.”
“I think that in any business, staffing is typically one of the hardest issues, especially for retail,” said Donna. “And now, the labor pool is a very, very tight.” The Eremians placed several help wanted ads over the past month. Eight candidates made appointments and then didn’t show up.
“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” Marc said. “It’s very difficult to hire good people in retail who are going to be extensions of you.”
When Elliott needed to take a leave from his general manager position, the Eremians found that finding a suitable replacement was almost impossible, despite the fact that their employees start at $15 an hour and staff can also make commission.
“But when there are no sales, there is no commission,” Marc said. “When you can be open on the Plaza and have nobody walk in your store all day long, and then again the next day, that’s bad.”
KANE in Yountville is open at the VMarketplace at 6525 Washington St. Daily 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
This story originally appeared on SonomaNews.com.