When we got into this business back in 1991, we looked at the people who came through the door and determined, through a clever use of science and magical thinking, that our customer base was approximately 75% local and 25% tourist. How did we do this, exactly? Well, first we became savvy readers of people. Also, we conducted random surveys. We would look at someone we didn't recognize (which was everyone, initially) and ask, "So....where abouts are ya from?" And if they said Sonoma or Glen Ellen, or even Kenwood, we'd nod sagely, then, when they weren't looking, we'd put a hash mark down in the LOCAL column. And, if somebody came in as pale as a ghost and speaking with a heavy Boston twang, or tanned but wearing pink shorts and an LA Dodger cap, or well dressed, but murmuring in German or Russian or Hebrew, we might not ask them that question, in fact, we might not ask them anything at all, but we'd for sure put them down as TOURIST. Then, after many months of this thankless work, we'd add up our numbers and-lo and behold-it was 75 to 25.
Now, I'm here to report that that mix has undergone a seismic shift: about 25% of our customers come from the Valley of the Moon, while the rest (that would be 75%) are from out of the area. Let's leave aside whether this is absolutely true or whether I'm just imagining it for a moment. I mean, I know the scientific reasoning which led me to my first set of conclusions is, admittedly, suspect and perhaps even sophomoric, but let's take a deep breath and pretend I'm right, that it's a fact. How and why did this come about? That's the real question.
Here's what I think: In the first place, a number of our old time customers have either moved away, gotten infirm, or sadly, died. I know this for a fact, and it's a natural process, after all. People get old, stop reading, die. In the second place, the young people here, maybe because there are not enough good jobs in Sonoma, or because they get bored silly with small town life or because it's in their DNA to see whether the grass is greener in New York or Paris, leave. I've seen this with my own eyes. Lastly, it must be stated that the City Council and the wineries and the Chamber of Commerce and the Visitors Bureau and others have done a bang-up job promoting tiny little Sonoma as the town that time forgot. That's why the sidewalk around the Plaza seems so crowded these days: it's our own doing; we have deliberately opened the door to folks who used to live in quaint places like ours, but can't quite remember when.
As the owner of the last bookstore in town I have to say that I don't mind this new trend nearly as much as perhaps some others do. Tourists help pay our bills, and their money is still green (actually, that's kind of changing, too, but never mind). And we still have many, many loyal customers who aren't bored or sick or dead yet, people who aren't afraid to come in regularly and joke around like in the olden days, which is something we cherish. And business has actually started to improve. Along with many other shops we're gradually coming back from the Dreaded Recession. You may have noticed, for example, that we put down a new carpet (the old one was so shabby it was getting ready to walk away on its own). This is a good thing. We paid Rugworks, a friendly, local company, a nice chunk of money and they did a marvelous job. The guy who contracted the job came in later and bought some books from us, probably using some of the cash we gave him. That's the way it should work.
The only thing we need to guard against now is this death thing. We just have to stay healthy. I mean, if all the locals die out, there'll be nothing but tourists here. And tourists never die. That's a fact.