Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

George Segarini is all about business. He started working as a child in his family's grocery store chain. And now that he's finishing his tenure at Tuolumne County's main business organization, his retirement plans include dedicating more time to another family business.

"I went to work when I was 8 years old, and I never quit," he said.

Segarini, of Sonora, announced earlier this week that he plans to retire at the end of the year as executive director of the Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce, wrapping up nearly 17 years as the business group's leader and multiple decades of involvement with the organization.

All the while he's stayed in the business world, moving from groceries to real estate to restaurants - and he's learned there's not a lot of difference.

"You face the same issues, generally speaking," Segarini said. "Business is business."

Segarini's family is from the Stockton area, where they owned and operated a grocery chain of the same name before large regional chains like Safeway and Lucky dominated the markets.

He started working in the business as a child and worked up to managing one of the Stockton stores, but started getting into real estate with an interest in the Sonora area.

He had been visiting Tuolumne County regularly on trips to Pinecrest Lake.

With a property in the Phoenix Lake area and a budding real estate career, he moved to Tuolumne County in the early 1980s However, it would be awhile before that property was ahome.

"We would go up on weekends and sit and eat lunch on the empty lot," he said.

Shortly after relocating, Segarini got active in the Chamber of Commerce. He had made a lot of connections in the Stockton chamber and knew it was a good way to meet people locally.

The chamber had just lost funding from the city of Sonora and Tuolumne County and had a single part-time staff member in place. Segarini said the chamber had to take out a loan just to pay some basic expenses, and economics in the area were in a slump as well.

After serving on the board of directors while working in local real estate, Segarini moved to a paid staff position as executive director in 1997. He didn't expect it to be a long-term thing.

"That was the beginning of it, and it didn't stop," he said.

Segarini said he's taken pride in running the organization like a business.

Today, the chamber is a 500-member group that organizes major events, counsels people in the business community and is active in local politics.

The goal of the chamber is to promote and advocate for local businesses, though it's not always so simple. Segarini said one of his proudest accomplishments has been to get the organization more involved politically. Today, the chamber has a government committee and a political action committee that holds election forums and takes stances on local elections from a business perspective.

Segarini regularly attends county and city government meetings, promoting chamber-backed projects and policies. He's also an active a member of the Sonora Planning Commission and other local agencies, boards and organizations.

There's been plenty of backlash over the years to the chamber's political involvement, he said. It's a small community, and when the chamber backs an issue, he still hears about it.

"Oh, yeah, you get that push back. But you're taking a position," he said.

Segarini noted Walmart's planned expansion into the grocery business has been divisive, angering local retailers and grocers. Ultimately, he said, the idea of free enterprise and competition should drive local business.

"If you're an advocate for the free market, free enterprise system, Walmart has a right to be there as much as anyone," he said.

Segarini will have plenty of free enterprise in the coming years, as the restaurant he co-owns with his son, Christopher, will get more of his focus when he leaves the chamber in December.

They opened Christopher's Ristorante Italiano in downtown Sonora five years ago, with his son running the kitchen and Segarini handling the business side of things.

While he does enjoy time outdoors and the scenic terrain of the Central Sierra, he also expects to use the retirement time to find some new recreational interests. It's something he's largely neglected so far, he said.

"I really don't have any outside recreational enjoyments," he said.

Though Segarini has discovered that he enjoys the restaurant business more than he expected, so it will continue to be all about business for Segarini.

"My passion is to make sure we have money at the end of the day," he said.