When Santa Rosa City Councilman John Sawyer voted to oppose Lowe's and Wal-Mart, he felt he was supporting every mom-and-pop business that could fall victim to the financial strength wielded by big-box businesses.
Voting for them "would be stabbing my fellow small business owners in the back," he said. "I couldn't do that."
By next May when his current lease expires, Sawyer will be closing Sawyer's News, one of the last remaining icons of what Santa Rosa's downtown used to be.
The primary reason: big, corporate-owned bookstores.
Sawyer said the arrival in 1994 of a 20,000-square-foot Barnes & Noble store just across Fourth Street from his own 4,000-square-foot store and Borders Books' decision to locate a 20,000-square-foot outlet on Santa Rosa Avenue five years later were the beginning of the end for his 64-year-old business.
"That was the first nail in our coffin but one nail does not a coffin make," Sawyer said.
Despite feverish efforts over the past 15 years to offer better service and a wider selection of popular and niche magazines, while shedding most of its books from its inventory and expanding floor space to offer customers hundreds of greeting card choices, Sawyer said he can no longer afford to keep his doors open.
"Newsstands," Sawyer admitted, "don't survive well with competition."
With Barnes & Noble and Borders skimming sales away from Sawyer's by selling high-volume magazines such as Newsweek, Time and Sports Illustrated along with greeting cards, Sawyer said he was left to sell barely profitable niche magazines.
"Once they cut into the staples of our business, our ability to keep our doors open was in jeopardy. You can't make a living selling Italian Vogue magazine," he said.
Sawyer is the fourth generation to operate the Santa Rosa business, first started in 1945 by his great-grandfather, Dr. Fred Sawyer and grandfather Wilbur Sawyer, and passed on to his father, Wilbur "Bill" Sawyer Jr. in 1977.
Sawyer, who spent his youth working the store's counter and "loving every minute of it," took joint ownership with his twin brother Michael in 1984 when he was 29.
His brother left the business in 1988 and Sawyer became sole owner until 1993 when he was joined by his partner in business and companion in life, Dan Potts.
Since 1994 when Barnes & Noble first arrived, Sawyer said making money was increasingly difficult.
"It's not that Sawyer's News is a failure, but it became a victim of competition, technology and people's changing habits," Sawyer said.
The shift of customers to the Internet and outlying shopping centers, along with the nation's economic nose-dive, all weighed into Sawyer's decision to close his doors when his lease expires next May. And he is not sure if he can stay afloat that long.
His landlord has refused to reduce the almost $7,000 in monthly rent Sawyer pays. Sawyer estimates he's paid over $1 million in rent since moving to the store's current location in 1985.
"I made it clear to them it would help keep our doors open longer but they declined to reduce our rent," he said. "That was the final nail."
Empire Property Services owner Bill Hillendahl, who represents the property owner, the Kenneth E. Langendorf Trust, declined to talk specifically about his negotiations with Sawyer due to privacy issues.