Annual Sip and Shop with the Ladies of the 600 Block
By Melissa Mendonca
Down on Main Street
Story by Melissa Mendonca
Photos by Alexis Leclair
WHEN THE FIRST MODEL sashays down the sidewalk-turned-runway of Red Bluff’s Main Street for the annual Sip and Shop fashion show extravaganza on October 12, it will be a culmination of years of collaboration and creativity put forward by women who lovingly refer to themselves as the Ladies of the 600 Block. It’s also one of 12 monthly events, albeit the grandmama of the year, the group of women business owners develop to give people a reason to come downtown.
“When we started out it wasn’t about the money,” says Sophia Swarthout, owner of Wink, a fashion boutique and salon. “It was about getting back to community. Let’s get this ball rolling of getting downtown vibrant again.” Now after eight years in business, Wink has moved into its third downtown location and bookends the fabled 600 block, anchoring shops such as Discover Earth, Meme’s on Main, Dandy Lion’s, Plum Crazy, Americana on Main, Sugar Shack, Huckleberry and Company, Enjoy the Store/Cedar Crest Brewery & Winery, The Spa Downstairs, Johnson Realty, and Village Pottery.
The fact that all of these businesses have significant female management, with most being primarily owned by women, may seem coincidental until one looks at the more recent history of the block and the courageous entrepreneurs who set up shop and then mentored women into businesses around them.
While Swarthout may joke of herself and Kate Grissom, co-owner of Enjoy the Store with husband Brandon, that “I think we’re the old ladies of the block,” the truth is that the pair are simply now the most seasoned, now that Paulette Bishop of End of the Trail, Mary Jayne Barrett of Discover Earth, and Janel Fitzgerald of Plum Crazy have sold their businesses and moved onto new ventures.
“Their presence is still definitely here,” says Swarthout. “I didn’t start anything. I’m just carrying on what they started.” That legacy is one Swarthout and Grissom are passing on to their neighbors. “It’s not a competition at all,” she maintains. “It’s just a sisterhood. The more people that are successful, the better our downtown is. We’re all creating it.”
One of the newer business owners on the block is Wendi Vaillette, who opened Americana on Main with Karen Lucero in September 2017 and quickly became co-treasurer of the Downtown Red Bluff Business Association with Swarthout. “I don’t even know if any of them realize it, but I was sort of intimidated by their strength,” she says of her new friends and mentors, Swarthout and Grissom. “I had admired them from afar.” She quickly came to learn that the strength translated to a commitment to support for the new business owners.
Americana on Main is a vendor marketplace with 18 permanent vendors and six consignment vendors. It is also a dream-come-true for Vaillette, who says, “I’ve always loved brick-and-mortar shops and have always wanted one of my own.” Her decision to go into business has been supported by the women surrounding her. “Day one, when we first rented the space and hadn’t even opened yet, they came over and welcomed us,” she says. “I’ve actually needed them quite a bit. Having the other women on the block with either education or experience has been amazing. They have always been as helpful as possible.”
Similar sentiments are expressed by Alana Hoagland, who heard one day that Janel Fitzgerald was interested in selling Plum Crazy. “I’d always wanted to have my own salon and I’d kind of given up on that dream,” she says. All it took was a lunch with Fitzgerald, planned just two hours earlier, for her to revive that dream, complete with mentorship. “I’d always shopped at Plum Crazy. I loved the store. I loved Janel,” she adds. Now she owns the place and has received ongoing guidance from Fitzgerald to keep it vibrant.
“We have a unique situation downtown,” says Hoagland. “We’re doing something every month to attract people downtown. It’s definitely a collaborative effort. I think it’s important that we support each other as a community.”
Sip and Shop brings together all of the 600 block businesses to showcase their merchandise in a fun setting featuring a fashion show and cocktails. The response over the years has been enthusiastic, with women making an event of it with friends and family. Its early success encouraged the business owners to do events monthly once they realized they’d tapped into the public’s desire to congregate in community downtown.
“The reason it’s succeeding is that these businesses are genuinely locking arms with each other,” says Grissom. “If in any way we’ve been a small part of supporting someone else to open a business or to follow their entrepreneurship dream, we’re really touched.” •
Fall Sip and Shop • Oct. 12
600 block of Main Street, Red Bluff