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Bodega Country Store closed after proprietor booted by owners

A Sonoma County market perhaps most distinguished by the life-size mannequin of Alfred Hitchcock that long stood out front abruptly closed last week, a result of the proprietor’s eviction from the historic building.

The Bodega Country Store, a roadside fixture in the tiny hamlet on the way to the coast, is shuttered indefinitely at this point, though the building’s owners hope it soon will reopen under different management.

“We’d like to find someone to run it,” said Tom Bonfigli, whose parents opened the Bodega Country Store in 1985 and bought the gray-blue structure a year later.

But finding the right person, he said, “that’s gonna be the trick.”

Bonfigli’s parents, Helen and her late husband, Joe, who died in 2014, ran the store for 20 years, catering to both locals and tourists.

“There’s been a store there since 1854 in that space,” said Tom Bonfigli, 55.

Under recent owner Michael Fahmie, who has run the shop since 2009 - and into the ground, his critics say - the market earned renown for a vast collection of kitschy movie memorabilia related to Hitchcock and the British film director’s 1963 horror movie “The Birds,” which was shot in the county.

Fahmie said a string of personal challenges, including the decline and death of his father in Florida and a prolonged, serious infection of his own, along with unwise management choices, contributed to operational losses that made it impossible for him to keep up with his financial obligations, despite extreme patience on the part of his landlord.

“I gave it a good shot,” Fahmie said Thursday. “I think I made the area more of a destination location. And now whoever assumes control of it can take it to the next level.”

Some of the posters, photographs, Hitchcock busts, stuffed crows and myriad other items were for sale. Others weren’t and were on display to draw attention to the unique place of the town in movie lore, said Fahmie, 53.

Fahmie, who has a culinary background, said highlighting the Hitchcock connection put the store and surrounding village on the map, along with the crab ?mac ’n’ cheese and clam chowder he served up.

The Bonfiglis adjudged it cheesy “overkill” that crowded out basic groceries that would be useful to the local community and help sustain the market’s business during the months when fewer tourists are around.

But the major issue lay in Fahmie’s continued trouble making rent for the main store, as well as a second retail space where he operated Birdland in Bodega, which was dedicated to more “Birds” collectibles, and a large upstairs apartment that he rented, though two other men mostly stayed there.

One of them was at the center of a high-profile law enforcement incident Feb. 19 in which Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies and the agency’s heavily armed SWAT team closed the road through town for three hours while they tried to persuade a domestic assault suspect they mistakenly believed was inside to surrender.

It turned out the suspect, Sean Aloysious Cameron, also known as “Spartacus,” was somewhere else, but two people who were at the apartment had not been forthcoming with what they knew about his whereabouts, sheriff’s officials said.

Fahmie, it turns out, was not around that night and, in fact, had not been staying in Bodega much, even leaving the store largely unsupervised, which, he conceded was part of the problem, along with his accounting struggles.

Bonfigli and his mother, Helen, are motivated to reopen the business under a new purveyor, continuing the store’s legacy.

“We ran a tight ship,” Tom Bonfigli said. “I’m not going to lie. But we tried to help people, and we tried to be fair, and we were.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

Mary Callahan

Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat

I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment. 

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