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Local Merchants Braced for Staples Onslaught

Store-owners fear loss of revenue and price fixing from the big box merchant ; Council will revisit big-business zoning on April 4 meeting.

Local office supply stores are bracing themselves for the arrival of big business in town: Staples, which just leased a vacant unit on West Napa and Riverside, is slated to open in Sonoma.

Business owners like Victoria Frank, who took over in 2008 after 25 years as an employee, are worried that the retail merchant will run them out of business.

"I'm sure that when they come to town their main point is going to be to knock me out...their prices will be lower than mine and then once I'm gone they'll go right back up," said Frank.

Several Sonoma-based office supply stores closed after Staples opened in Napa and Santa Rosa, according to Frank.

"I counted about ten local businesses that could be affected," said Pat Benttinelli, owner of .

But the choice of selection versus care and character is up to consumers.

"We put ribbons in typewriters, last week I saw someone in the back room teaching a customer Word so they could use their label-maker - it's a lot of little things," said Dressen. 

Customers seem to agree: a petition sitting in Frank's store advocating for legislation blocking "big box" chain garnered about 100 signatures after only a few days.

Because the vacant building, which formerly housed a Ford dealership, is zoned for commercial use, Staples is not required to obtain a use permit and the City has limited power to prevent the store from setting up shop, according to Sonoma Planning Director David Goodison.

"If they were to propose to divide the building or expand the building that would be subject to use review, but because neither of those things are happening the building is not subject to use permit review," said Goodison.

A group of twenty local merchants, including the owners of SonomaTronics and Sonoma Valley Office Supply, have drafted an open letter to Sonoma City Council demanding a reworking of current zoning ordinances to prevent chain stores from putting up shop in Sonoma.

"We request that no other than existing national chain stores with multiple departments (of a certain size to be determined) be issued a new Business Use
Permit in the city of Sonoma until after public review of business zoning changes," reads the notice.

The City Council will examine amending these rules in their next meeting on Monday, April 4.

But in order to block incoming chains, the Council would have to amend the city's general plan through an interim ordinance - requiring a 4/5 majority vote, and is an action limited to events which provide "a current and immediate threat to the public health, safety or welfare," according to state law.

Staples has also submitted applications to amend several signs and re-plaster their front door, which will be reviewed at the Design Review Commission meeting on April 19.

Merchants recognize that a Sonoma Staples will come to fruition, the next question - how to respond.

"I hope that they don't just come in for a year and say 'we'll take the loss because big business is big business,' and they're big," said Benttinelli.

But Frank is braced for a good old competitive fight.

"When you get down to it Sonomans are loyal...I think Staples is going to be very surprised," said Frank.

allison sabraw April 01, 2011 at 03:30 PM
Staples ? Why, what is the purpose. More tax revenue for Sonoma? What is next ? Target ? A few Carl's Jr.'s lining the streets of Napa and Spain Street ? How about a Home Depot ? Bottom line, Sonoma has taken pride in preserving Sonoma's reputation, beauty and support for local business. Sonoma is geared for small and thriving business by satisfying the needs of the community. This is why people live in Sonoma, move to Sonoma and Dont Leave ! Get it? No Big Box Business needed, welcome or wanted ! An article in Sonoma Index Tribune stated that Sonoma is a high ranking community in the nation that supports its local business. When a Big Box brakes ground it truly is an open door, and like the Titantic, many other small and medium business will slowly sink. Does the planning commission want to set a presendence to have the Big Box industry knocking at their doors. How do you say no when the door has been openend and the ground has been layed to begin construction? Bad idea, not a good habit to get into to ! Allison
Katie Dusak April 01, 2011 at 04:08 PM
Why on Earth would we need a Staples???? We have a responsibility to our local business people. Besides, If we let Staples in....what is next? When that property was first being renovated for lack of a better term, Walmart wanted in(yes people, Walmart). We should support our local business people and build a stronger community. I totally agree with the prior writer. People live in Sonoma for a reason and it is not for large commercial businesses that are accessible is adjoining towns each less than 15 miles away. Truly a "Bad Idea". Katie
Sue Albano April 01, 2011 at 04:48 PM
I seriously cannot believe that this is happening....Is it really? Maybe we can talk to the Food Trucks into parking out in front, and replace the Duck Pond with a nice new Target or Walmart! Sue Albano
Kathy April 04, 2011 at 02:26 PM
We do not need a Staples store here. I find the local office supply is quite competitive, you can buy one of something instead of 6 or more and if they don't have it in stock they'll get it (sometimes the next day). They have access to a much better selection than Staples who is always trying to sell you their brand product, which is usually lower quality, and they have knowledge about what they are selling. If I need something from Staples I can get it online and delivered for free or go to Petaluma when I shop for other things from big box stores. Same thing goes for copy shops here. Maybe the City can't do anything about Staples coming but we can! Boycott Staples! Support our community! Kathy

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