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Downtown Ukiah retailer finds ways to hang on in tough times

In Person Or Online

Mendocino Bounty, 200 S. School St., Ukiah, in the Ukiah Valley Conference Center building.

Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday. Extended hours during the winter holidays.

For more information, visit Mendocino Bounty on Facebook or Instagram; call 707-463-6711 or email mendobounty@gmail.com.

When Karen Record, like other Mendocino County business owners, was ordered to close her specialty gift shop in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic, she went home and started nesting.

“Like everyone else, I was organizing closets and cleaning kitchen drawers and baking,” she said. After two weeks of tidying, and ample baked goods later, her thoughts shifted to her shuttered store in downtown Ukiah, where Mendocino Bounty has been a fixture for a quarter century.

“I thought I had to do something to stay in business,” she said. After speaking with a fellow business owner, Record acknowledged her business model was going to take her where she’d previously resisted — to the world of online sales.

Welcome to the era of COVID-19 and shifting business modalities. Even though Record was able to reopen her shop in mid-May, she still offers the option of online sales through platforms like Instagram and Facebook.

“I was so reluctant for so many years,” she said, determined to greet customers and make sales transactions in person. Her shop, with artful displays of home goods, kitchenware, candy, garden decor, food and gift items, covers some 1,250 square feet on a corner location within the Ukiah Valley Conference Center building on South School Street.

For Record, who also runs an espresso bar in her shop featuring local roasts, Mendocino Bounty isn’t just a place to browse for the perfect gift or pick-me-up. She also showcases products from nearly 30 Mendocino County food purveyors and artisans, as well as wine and craft beer produced within the county. Look for vintages from nearby Seabiscuit Ranch, with wine labels sporting photos of the famed racehorse, or pick up some popular Boont Amber Ale from Boonville’s Anderson Valley Brewing Company.

Last month Record celebrated her 26th year in business, grateful for loyal customers who’ve supported her, particularly through the challenges of the past six months. Regulars include real estate agents who purchase gift baskets, and area businesses that place orders for tins of Joan’s English Toffee, a popular treat made in town from a “decidedly delicious” family recipe.

In addition to wine and beer, Record carries beverages like Mendocino’s Cafe Beaujolais hot chocolate mix, and coffee from Black Oak Coffee Roasters of Ukiah and Fort Bragg’s Thanksgiving Coffee Company. She plans to resume carrying takeout food from Boont Berry Farm Natural Foods and Catering in Boonville, something she’s put on hold during the health crisis.

Right now her biggest sellers are a reflection of the times. Coffee makers like French presses and electric pour-over pots and coffee accessories are especially popular, plus bakeware like tart pans or loaf pans. Alcohol-related products are top sellers, too, including wine glasses, martini glasses and barware. “I’ve sold more cocktail shakers than I have in a year,” Record said.

Shoppers can find local products like Seeds & Suds and Hot & Sweet small batch mustards from Mendocino Mustard; artisan crostini from the venerable Fort Bragg Bakery; three varieties of Piment d’Ville Basque red chile powder from Boonville Barn Collective; biodynamic extra virgin olive oil from Hopland’s SunHawk Farms; and everything from jalapeno pepper jelly to marionberry jam to sweet lemon butter made in Fort Bragg by Carol Hall’s Kitchen.

There are jars of natural honey as well, from Mendocino Gold in Ukiah, including an orange blossom variety; and culinary herbs from McFadden Farm of Potter Valley, with selections like Grilling Herbs and Mexican Herbs.

When Record was approached about opening her shop in a storefront location in the then-new conference center back in the 1990s, the idea was to highlight food items produced in the county. The business evolved over the years, changing with consumer trends, but Record never could have imagined responding to shelter-in-place mandates to help slow the spread of a highly contagious virus.

When she recruited a tech-savvy former employee to help set up Instagram sales early in the pandemic, Record admittedly was doubtful. She’s old school, even using “an oversized calculator” as her cash register.

She ordered 50 tie-dye facemasks, with photos posted on Instagram for curbside pickup, thinking, “I’ll be surprised if we get anything from this.” To her happy surprise, customers quickly responded.

“Within two hours every mask was accounted for,” she said. “They were all gone. I was blown away.” The next day she ordered 200 more, and is now up to 600 of the colorful masks, made by a Southern California company from “fabulous” fabric crafted in Kathmandu, Nepal.

As Easter approached, Record offered hand-packed baskets for children. Again, to her pleasant surprise, she sold out. Ask her today about online sales and Record is no longer a naysayer. “I take back everything I said,” she acknowledged with a laugh.

By Mother’s Day, in addition to putting together custom gift baskets, Record came up with a popular themed basket for the times: the “COVID Survival Basket.” The $70 basket, which she imagines she’ll assemble indefinitely as the pandemic continues, features Mendocino County wine, “lots of chocolate,” a pair of cozy printed socks, and essentials including a hand sanitizer spray produced by Charbay Distillery of Ukiah; boutique bar soap and lotion from Potter Valley Soapworks; and one of the popular tie-dye masks, something she considers “the new fashion accessory” of 2020.

Record is happy to report she’s only had to ask one customer to put on a mask, someone from outside the area, and has been impressed with how courteous patrons are in her shop, where aisles are narrow.

“People are very conscientious up here,” she said. “They’ll take the long way around to get to the register.” That may be due in part to the “Mask Up Mendo” awareness campaign conducted in partnership with the County of Mendocino and various business and civic groups.

Record limits the number of people who come in to browse, asking any overflow beyond seven to wait at tables and chairs in the lobby where customers would typically visit over an espresso or cup of joe. Record and her lone employee, Betty Davis, haven’t been making coffee drinks during the pandemic, but may consider brewing again for “grab and go” and “sip and shop” options.

The seasoned businesswoman is cautiously optimistic about the upcoming holiday season, but wonders if one of her seasonal employees will have to do more than assist with gift ideas and ring up sales. “I’ll have a greeter at the door taking count (of customers),” Record said. The weeks leading up to Christmas often bring 20 to 30 shoppers at a time, a number too difficult for social distancing.

She keeps complimentary masks, hand sanitizer and disposable gloves at the ready, and her Formica countertop is beginning to show wear from cleanings after every transaction.

Mendocino Bounty is just one of the businesses benefiting from countywide efforts of Ukiah’s nonprofit Economic Development & Financing Corporation and collaborating groups including local chambers of commerce that offer free face masks and hand sanitizer through “Mask Up Mendo” to distribute to businesses for the safety of employees and customers. Record’s shop is at the hub, since the convention center is a distribution point.

The supportive measures are welcome, Record said, to help move forward during uncertain times. Additionally, she’s grateful for the rent reduction she’s received from the City of Ukiah, which owns the building, and for assistance from a government small business loan.

Those measures, along with loyal customers, have made a positive difference as sales have been “considerably down” since March. “Without that, I don’t think I could have survived,” she said.

Early in the pandemic, “I started figuring how much money I lost and it was kind of staggering.” Although there’s been an uptick in sales, foot traffic is still down, although those who do visit Mendocino Bounty spend more.

“Now business is good. It’s not where it used to be, but I’m very pleased where it is,” Record said. “If I can make it through Christmas, I’ll be happy.”

In Person Or Online

Mendocino Bounty, 200 S. School St., Ukiah, in the Ukiah Valley Conference Center building.

Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday. Extended hours during the winter holidays.

For more information, visit Mendocino Bounty on Facebook or Instagram; call 707-463-6711 or email mendobounty@gmail.com.

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