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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.


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.”

The fires

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.”

Staffing

“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.


Even with a rent that Marc described as “fair,” it became impossible to make their monthly nut.

Foot traffic and parking

The Eremians said they feel strongly that a central problem with a Plaza storefront is the lack of interesting things for locals to do downtown.

“I’ll meet a longtime local and they’ll tell me that they didn’t even know about our store,” Marc said. “They will tell me they never come downtown if they can avoid it. There are just too many wine tasting rooms and real estate offices and not enough reasons for people to walk around the town.”

Parking can also pose a challenge. Donna said that the very best days for retail stores are unquestionably Saturdays and, on most Saturdays, there are events on the Plaza.

“While these Plaza events may be fun, they literally suck the life off out of the retail businesses,” she said. “Foot traffic is now terrible on Saturdays. We give customers a really good experience, but that doesn’t help if they don’t come in the door.”

Shoplifting

Shoplifting is a problem everywhere in retail, said the Eremians. Their staff has always had to be vigilant.

“It’s those you’d never expect,” Marc said. “Moms, old grannies, a well-dressed couple… the people that you least expect are the ones that do it. I guess they get a rush out of it.”

Online competition

In the years prior to Kane opening its doors, there was only one other menswear store in the downtown, Eraldi’s. However, in the same year Kane opened, Scott Lyle Menswear opened just a few doors away. But for the Eremians, online competition is a much bigger factor. Marc said that until about five years ago, the clothing brands he carried weren’t readily available online.

“But today, it’s so disheartening to see people come in and take a picture of a tag and then walk out,” he said. “So frustrating. You’re providing a good service to them, you are a local business and they start searching for it online right in front of you.”

Parting thoughts

So what advice would the Eremians give to bright-eyed want-to-be downtown retailers?

“People think that it’s really glamorous to own your own business and sometimes it can be very enjoyable,” Marc said. “But anyone going into retail today needs to have the stomach to work from opening to closing and the pocketbook to last you through the slow times. Best of all would be a big family who will work for you.”

Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO Mark Bodenhammer said the chamber is sad to see Kane go and he agrees that retail in Sonoma is tough.

“Retail has always been an extremely difficult business and the past few years have made success even more challenging,” he said. “The landscape is changing so fast with online competition and consumers’ tastes in constant motion. Even a business like Kane that is known for good service and high quality products can have a hard time making a reasonable profit.”

He admits that there are specific challenges unique to Sonoma, as well.

“Sonoma’s high cost of living and workforce housing shortage create an environment that drives up labor costs,” he said. “And, unfortunately, there is only so much extra that many customers are willing to pay for local goods, products and services.”

Marc Eremian says he and Donna are leaving Sonoma with a heavy heart.

“But it is the right business decision,” he said. “You can’t run a business with your heart and not your head.”

All of the Sonoma Kane merchandise is 40 to 60 percent off and store fixtures are for sale. The store will close on Dec. 30.

Email Lorna at lorna.sheridan@sonomanews.com.