With all the hurdles of operating a physical retail store in a post-pandemic environment, Jenny DeYoung had been particularly worried about the relocation of her costume shop to downtown Santa Rosa.
In the spring, the owner of the building that houses the costumes and rentals of Disguise the Limit told DeYoung that the space in the Railroad Square area was up for sale. The news raised concerns about the location of the store’s more than 3,000 items, ranging from a peacock costume to steampunk jackets.
DeYoung decided to hold a discount sale in April to help reduce the size of the space his store had occupied since 2012, next to Jackson’s Bar and Oven.
Columnized in The Press Democrat, the story of the discount sale caught the attention of Ken Lafranchi.
Lafranchi, who operates a local architecture and development firm, said he wanted to do more for the downtown redevelopment.
“We could do our little bit, like joining another civic group that is trying to make a difference downtown,” he said.
Nonetheless, when he read the DeYoung discount sale story, he contacted her.
“She is passionate about her business, about keeping a heart in the community. I think she’s a great ambassador for Railroad Square, ”he said.
Moved by DeYoung’s enthusiasm for his business, as well as the neighborhood, Lafranchi said he was inspired to do something different in an effort to keep DeYoung’s store there.
“We could actually buy a building and build it directly. It’s much more effective that way, ”he said.
He bought the building for $ 800,000 and noted that he will likely invest an additional $ 150,000 for a new roof and exterior painting.
The deal was quickly done, as the seller lowered the requested amount and DeYoung offered a bit more rent. In the interest of getting a deal done quickly, Lafranchi said he negotiated a little less harshly than he might have had in a typical real estate deal.
“It’s not a big source of money. I just think it’s the right thing to do, ”he said.
DeYoung said she was thrilled her store could stay. She said she loved Railroad Square and believed the community, made up mostly of small businesses, was set to grow.
Recent additions to the area include the 142-room AC Marriott hotel which opened last summer, as well as the popular Grossman’s Noshery & Bar, the latest project from restaurateurs Mark and Terri Stark.
Miracle Plum, a specialty grocery store that recently expanded with an offsite kitchen, has also developed a loyal following.
There is also a residential development project at the old marshalling yard west of the downtown SMART station that could attract even more residents to the area.
DeYoung plans to work with the Historic Railroad Square Association on other projects such as the “spooky square” proposed around Halloween to attract more visitors.
“It’s about the community that comes together and makes sure we stay,” she said. “It’s just a magical story. I couldn’t believe it had happened.
Lafranchi also said he is optimistic about the neighborhood, saying he has the right mix of public transportation, retail stores, hotel guests and residential units to do well in the future.
“I just think the potential is huge,” he said.
His purchase of the property stands out, as some local landlords weren’t as flexible during the pandemic when retail customers asked for rent cuts or other concessions while their businesses were closed or operating fewer hours.
Lafranchi’s firm also owns other properties, such as Skyhawk Village, where he had a few restaurants in which he worked with his tenants.
“We tried to work with them. We reduced the rent and gave them help and time; and actually just cut their rent for quite a while to help them get through, ”he said. He also had a building in Windsor that housed a bowling alley that was closed for a year, which presented its own obstacles.
“I just don’t understand this philosophy of really forcing someone’s hand when they don’t have it,” said Lafranchi.
No longer afraid to move, DeYoung said she can now focus on redesigning her business to go beyond just a costume store.
She plans to store new designer clothes, vintage clothes, crystals, treasures and unusual wearable art. There are plans to offer classes in theatrical and prosthetic makeup and costume design that will draw clients beyond the typical holiday rush when people like to dress up.
“All year round we’re going to be doing these fun things,” she said.
You can contact Editor-in-Chief Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or [email protected] On Twitter @BillSwindell.