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Locastore, the Little Store With the Big Ideas


Locastore, the Little Store With the Big Ideas

Convenient Local Food

Sonoma County’s first local-only grocery store recently opened its doors on the corner of Bloomfield Road and Hwy 116 in south Sebastopol. Open 7 days a week from 9 - 5, the tiny store offers produce organically grown in Sonoma County by a variety of farmers, and preserved food products made by the county’s talented food artisans. Shoppers can find kitchen staples like potatoes, onions, garlic, lemons, breads, granolas, jams, and juices, as well as special items such as jerusalem artichokes, arugula, hot peppers, mushrooms and yacon. Locastore wants to make it convenient for the average person to access healthy local food any day of the week. Plans are in place to build another 8 – 10 of these healthy little convenience stores located both on busy corners and in under-served rural areas.

How The Little Store Got Started

Locastore’s founder, Susan Butler, has a green thumb and a large garden that generates huge quantities of produce. She was spending more time trying to find homes for the harvested produce than she was growing it! So she found a welcoming place to build a little Produce Stand only a mile from her garden on a busy corner next to Hard Core Coffee.  

She built a small country-style shed, only 8’ by 15,’ with space for outdoor displays on a front porch. The basic structure, on its leased lot, was built using funds raised with a successful Kickstarter campaign. Susan and her team raised $12,000 in donations from 101 community supporters during the summer of 2013.

The next step, obtaining county permissions to turn this structure into a legal ‘brick & mortar’ retail store, was required to obtain the all-important Retail Food Facility Permit. This was a long process requiring zoning approvals, soil testing, engineering, and architectural drawings. The plans had to be approved first by Health and then by PRMD.  

Inspectors visited at various stages as we poured footings and sidewalks, installed framing reinforcements, and built a Class A fire-rated roof, including 5 skylights for adequate lighting. The store is fully ADA accessible. It’s become quite a substantial little shed!

The store purposely off-grid and has no electricity, water or heat. This is possible because we’re only open during daylight hours, vegetables prefer coolness, and we do not carry ‘hazardous’ foods that require refrigeration. We do have leased access to an ADA restroom and a janitorial sink in a neighboring building. No hook-ups mean Locastores are flexible in where they can locate. And Locastore is climate friendly, using no power itself and supporting organic farmers who sequester carbon in the fertile soils they continously build up.

Big Idea #1: Normalize Healthy Eating

By bringing fresh produce and healthy preserved foods to where people live, Locastore intends to help normalize healthy eating. We aim to offer convenient access to a wide variety of local fruits and vegetables, as well as healthier versions of popular snack and convenience foods. Some examples we are seeking out are less sugary trail mix bars, locally grown popcorn, or local potato chips made with healthy coconut oil and coated with a variety of healthy spices like curry, cayenne or ginger.

Locastore is developing a product line of items that are low in sugar, commercial vegetable oils, GMOs, and refined flours, because these ingredients, although hard to avoid, are the worst offenders to good health. Locastore intends to help stimulate even more creativity in our already-special local-food cuisine. The idea is to make eating local fresh produce and healthier versions of packaged foods just as convenient and delicious as the less-healthy food choices all around us in the usual places.

Big Idea #2: Give the Little Guy a Chance 

By paying close attention to building codes, public health concerns, and new state legislation, Locastore has discovered a way to give the little guy a chance to get his or her local products placed on retail shelves. We’re now offering a consulting service to help interested home chefs obtain their Cottage Kitchen Class B licenses, so that preserved foods they make and package in their own home kitchens can be legally sold in a retail store. Locastore wants to sell food products that do not exist yet, so we are offering a package deal: the license, the recipes, the packaging and the labeling for products we specify and contract to buy in stated quantities for a given length of time. You test-market at Locastore, and if your product is a hit, you can scale up and take your product into bigger markets.

As we build them out, each store will be sold for a reasonable price under a franchise contract to owner/operators. The little Locastores will be turn-key businesses, including the building, all permits and registrations, a supply chain, and accounting systems already in place. They will be capable of providing a modest secure income for two people.

Big Idea #3: Stimulate Local Prosperity

Each Locastore, although a micro-enterprise, low-overhead small business, will generate about 6 primary jobs in farming, transport, food preservation, retail, and business services. Ten locations in the county within the next three years will total only 2,400 SF of retail space, but the dispersed locations will lower the number of food miles driven for both suppliers and customers. The stores will be climate-friendly, using little or no power themselves, and supporting the sequestering of carbon in the fertile soils their organic growers are continuously building up.

With its micro-system of local food distribution, Locastore will contribute to community resilience. Creating relationships of trust supporting many small transactions begins to build a small, lively, growing economic network with a degree of independence from the wider economy.

Every dollar spent at Locastore stays within the local area, instead of being siphoned off overnight to distant corporate headquarters. These dollars support local paychecks which get recirculated locally, enhancing overall local prosperity.

Locastore, the “Little Engine that Could”

The little railroad engine in the children’s storybook, chugging up a hill, saying, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can” did make it over the top.  Locastores are really small, yet capable of providing outsized benefits. Locastore’s “I think I can” good ideas can generate real on-the-ground activities beneficial to family, friends and neighbors: a quick-stop shop for reliably safe and nutritious local food, proactive home-based self-employment opportunities, a retail outlet for local farmers and market gardeners, and an enjoyable community place to gather.

If you’re passing by the corner of Bloomfield Road and Hwy 116 you’ll see a little flowery shed. Why not help the Little Engine along, and support our local economy, by shopping regularly at Locastore?  Locastore has a lively Facebook page with gorgeous produce portraits, and lots of detail about what we have to offer. We’re putting local people to work, improving public health, and allowing everyone to enjoy more of our wonderful Sonoma County bounty

About Locastore’s Designer, Susan Butler

Susan Butler, a Sebastopol resident, ran a design/build general contracting firm for many years. She’s also a Certified Permaculture Designer. Susan is a serial entrepreneur, and has successfully launched many small businesses.