By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
At Sonoma Valley Office Supply on Friday, Vicky Frank summed up her mood with a single word.
Three blocks away from the 5th Street West store, final preparations were under way for Saturday’s opening of a Staples store.
For Frank, who has worked at or owned Sonoma Valley Office Supply since 1981, the new 14,336-square-foot retail giant represents a clear threat to her bottom line.
The store opening also is a touchstone moment in Sonoma’s ongoing debate on whether to regulate formula or big-box stores, given that it was the Staples plans that sparked the discussion.
When the automatic doors on the West Napa Road store slide open at 9 a.m., many in this city of 10,000 will be anxious to see the affect it will have on local commerce and the city’s collective view of itself as a unique place.
Frank’s opposition to the new Staples is perhaps not surprising given that the store is a business competitor. But she insisted Friday that she would feel the same way were the store in question, say, a Wal-Mart or Target.
“It’s not Sonoma,” she said.
Others disagree, and welcome the opportunity to shop at Staples.
“I don’t think it’s a threat to anything. I’m just upset because they’re not open,” said Jan Valluzzo, a Washington state resident who stopped at the Staples on Friday only to find out the store had yet to open.
Her husband, a fourth-generation McDonald’s franchisee, said he understands why some in Sonoma are wary of corporate businesses.
“If the city doesn’t have rigid design codes that businesses have to conform to, they open the door to a Pandora’s box,” Bob Valluzzo said.
Other than design review of buildings, Sonoma does not define or regulate formula businesses that meet zoning regulations, including in the downtown area. Staples did not have to apply for a use permit to operate a store in a building that formerly housed a Ford dealership.
Whether that should change is the subject of the current debate that has divided the town.
The City Council formed a controversial committee that has been meeting regularly to consider changes to zoning ordinances that could affect future applications submitted by formula businesses.
The eight-member group comprised of council members, business interests and slow-growth advocates, so far has shown support for new restrictions for Sonoma’s Plaza area, including a new use-permit review process for formula retail businesses.
More tests of the city’s resolve are coming.
The proposed developer of a 10,500-square-foot property a block away from the plaza that formerly was the site of a fire station confirmed that Peet’s Coffee & Tea wants to be a tenant there.
The current plans for the site call for two restaurants, a coffee shop, three retail shops, an office loft and multiple “towers.”
The developer, Foothill Partners, is hosting a community workshop at the site from 10 a.m. to noon on Oct. 8 to get feedback on the plans.
At Sonoma Valley Office Supply, Frank’s more immediate concern is fending off Staples, which is offering a 15 percent discount on most of the its 7,000 products through Dec. 31 for customers who sign up for a rewards card. The retail giant also donated $2,500 to the Sonoma Ecology Center.
In response, Frank sped up creating a new direct sales business that will work directly with corporate customers. Her daughter, Dana, quit another job to run the new initiative.
But success is not guaranteed. On Friday, their concerns were evident.
“I may go out for a margarita tonight,” Dana Frank said.