s
s
Sections
Sections
Search
Subscribe

Retail cooperative sells goods made in county


Ideas for 21st-century businesses pop spontaneously into Kelley Rajala's mind.

The retailer/innovator is celebrating the first anniversary of what she hopes is becoming a bustling downtown Santa Rosa general store and community meeting place.

But isn't that a rather old concept? Rajala, 42, regards local, sustainable businesses that make communities more self-reliant and that don't aspire to quick, fabulous profits as the new new.

She created and operates a cooperative on Fifth Street called Share Exchange. In the front, a consignment shop carries art, jewelry, crafts and other items made by Sonoma County people. Nearly 200 have their wares on display there.

"We signed up 10 or 15 new artists just in the last two weeks," Rajala said.

The year-round store between Mendocino Avenue and B Street "is filling a real need," she said, for creators of handmade items who otherwise might rely on seasonal craft fairs and word of mouth.

"They have a really hard time marketing themselves," Rajala said.

Behind the retail shop at Share Exchange is a brightly painted and high-roofed "co-working" space, Sonoma County's first. Independent entrepreneurs and small nonprofits that may be unable to afford their own offices pay to use the work spaces, communal conference room and shared business technology located there.

Among its 40 current tenants are a game programmer, videographer, the North Bay Organizing Project and a solar company.

Already, the entrepreneurs who use the co-working space have opportunities to share business ideas. Rajala intends soon to introduce more formal business-incubation services.

She doesn't imagine the next Apple or Facebook being born there. She believes the weakened economy and job market and the complexity of global economic and environmental issues have spawned a need for people to collaborate on businesses that provide consumers with local goods, farm products and services.

Rajala, who co-founded and for a time directed the Sonoma County GoLocal Cooperative, figures that for every item made and purchased locally, there is one that doesn't have to be manufactured abroad and shipped here, generating greenhouse gases. "We call that import substitution, or import replacement."

As much as she has enjoyed the growth and popularity of the Share Exchange shop, she would like to expand the inventory to include more locally made, everyday household items of the type carried by a general store.

She envisions a larger, perhaps more central retail space stocked with all manner of Sonoma County products and, in the back, a vigorous incubator hatching new, local businesses.

"This store really needs to be on Fourth Street," she said.

Though activity in the shop and the co-working space has grown through this first year of operation, she figures the slightly off-the-path location on Fifth Street, across from the parking lot of a swath of businesses on lower Fourth, has kept some potential shoppers and partners away.

Rajala brought to Share Exchange not just a storehouse of ideas for sustainable, collaborative local business, but a track record of entrepreneurial action. She branched out from her family's large physical-therapy and wellness product supply company, Rajala Rehab Products, to co-found an aromatherapy firm and then a multi-faceted yoga studio and retail shop in Pacifica.

In addition to yoga sessions, her Downward Dog Yoga featured massage, its own clothing line, community programs and belly-dancing classes.

"I'm a believer in a diversified business model," Rajala said. Without the belly dancing, she said, "I don't think the business would have worked."

Her personal life includes growing so many vegetables in the yard of the Burbank Gardens home she shares with partner Eric Robinson that they're able to sell some to downtown restaurants. She said she is so busy right now, growing Share Exchange, that she's glad the garden is taking its winter nap.

You can reach Chris Smith at 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.