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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.

Kelley Rajala

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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.


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