back to top

Corporations Can’t Go Home Again

by Mike Keeler

Thomas Wolfe famously explained, “you can’t go home again.” Mitt Romney infamously said, “corporations are people, my friend.” Put them together, and you get, “corporations can’t go home again.”

The small town of Sonoma, California, has been home to lots of different folks for a pretty long time. The Miwok and Pomo tribes were here when the Spanish arrived. In 1823, the Mission San Francisco Solano was built and Sonoma became part of the Camino Real, or “Royal Road” of missions along the California coast. In 1846, a group of Americans revolted against Mexico and declared an independent Republic of California, which, though never recognized, remained independent, with Sonoma as its capital, until it became part of the United States after the Mexican-American War.

In the 20th century, Sonoma became a famous wine center, and lots of visitors came for the tastings and to enjoy the area’s history and beauty. In 1956, a local resident named Chuck Williams – who had served in Europe in World War II- launched a kitchen supply outlet that sold high-end French cookware to wealthy tourists. He called the place Williams-Sonoma. It was immediately successful; so successful, in fact, that within 2 years it had outgrown its original location and Chuck Williams moved it – all the way to San Francisco. From there, Williams-Sonoma blossomed into a $3 billion chain with 250 stores nationwide.

 Recently, the marketing folks at Williams-Sonoma realized they needed something new: a destination store. The kind of thing that folks would travel a long way to see, and where they would spend a lot of money. In researching potential locations, someone came upon an interesting opportunity: a FOR SALE sign outside a building located at 601 Broadway, Sonoma, CA. Yep, it was the location of Chuck Williams’ very first store. This was perfect! A new Williams-Sonoma throwback store, right in the place where it all began.

Ah, but corporations can’t go home again, my friend. At least, not to Sonoma, at least, not yet. You see, Sonoma has been wrestling with how to protect the city and its public square – the largest and perhaps the most handsome in California – from the incursion of formula stores like Applebees and Home Depot and, um, er, ahem, Williams-Sonoma. The five-member city council was about to pass a temporary moratorium on all box stores when they heard of Williams-Sonoma’s plans, and they tabled their vote. Now, they are stuck in the delicate position of having to draft a zoning ordinance that keeps almost all formula stores out of Sonoma, except for one. AND they have explain to the owner of an existing kitchen supply place up the street why they are making that exception. AND they have explain to Chuck Williams, now 97 years old, why he has to wait for council approval to bring his corporation home, to the town he helped make famous.

What a nasty recipe! Call it the History/Retail/Marketing/Politics Ragout. Ick.

Latest Articles

- Advertisement -Fox Radio CBS Sports Radio Advertisement

Latest Articles

- Advertisement -Fox Radio CBS Sports Radio Advertisement

Related Articles