A downtown Sonora retail store specializing in western wear plans to close by mid-April, adding to the torrent of Washington Street closures over the past years.
Let’er Buck Western Wear and Uniforms owner Lori Lyons said Wednesday her departure from 68 S. Washington St., where she has operated for seven years, is due to a perfect storm of misfortunes.
Her longtime landlord is seeking to sell the property, and she has seen a decline in sales due to online shopping and the diminishing popularity of womens western-style clothing, she said.
“I’m saddened. The internet is hurting a lot, a lot of people.”
A buyer has not yet been located for the building, which is owned by Lauralee Sprouse, said Mark Quinn, an independent broker coordinating the sale.
An asking price was set for $225,000. The retail space is approximately 1,600 square feet, but that does not include a storage area that extends to South Green Street at the rear of the building.
“I have all the confidence in the world someone is going to come in and buy it and do something in it,” Quinn said.
Let’er Buck — a rodeo-culture contraction of “Let her buck” which refers to broncos — has specialized in a range of western-style clothing since it opened on Main Street in Jamestown in April 2003. Closed after the 2011 financial crisis, it was reestablished at its current site in downtown Sonora in 2012.
“I have seen a lot of businesses come and go since then. You could almost see which ones would make it and which ones would not,” Lyons said.
The first sign of trouble at Let’er Buck came with the rise of online retailers, which cut into Lyons’ sales.
“I can’t compete with their prices,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s a phase, but I’m the type who needs to try it on first. They say, if we can’t find it here, we’ll find it on the internet.”
Lyons orders stock between six and nine months prior to each season. If customers don’t buy the items, it remains in her store as “dead merchandise.” In this last season, her situation became even more dire.
“I need to sell that to pay for the new stuff. It’s cat and mouse,” she said.
The most prominent drop in sales has come from women’s western wear, which has undergone a transformation from a utility clothing to a fashion style. Authentic female ranchers haven’t found the new styles adequate for their work, while women seeking stylish outfits can find other options online or elsewhere, Lyons said.
“They’re more fitted, they’re more sexy, but they’re not workwear,” she said. “Cowgirls back in the day worked on their ranches. They had to make sure they were equipped with their tack and personal wear and they were protected from the elements.”
Lyons said on Thursday she was “ecstatic” for Let’er Buck to move into a new location by the end of April, renting space within Trendz Boutique at the The Junction shopping center in East Sonora.
But at the new site, she said, western wear will be completely eliminated from the merchandise.
“There’s still a need for men’s workwear, and I’ll still be carrying the ladies workwear, but I just won’t have the boutique portion,” she said.
What will be missing from the new location still fills the shop on South Washington Street. There are Wrangler jeans and western shirts complete with pearl snap buttons, winding yolks or fringe. Buckled leather belts and cowboy hats beckon to any gunslingers or vaqueros passing through town.
“The western menswear has always been flashy. They dressed from heel to toe and top to bottom always dapper and clean, waiting for that Saturday night,” Lyons said.
On Wednesday, an older couple tried on a belt, while a woman cycled through a circular array of shirts. Lyons picked out a red button-down shirt for a woman who said her husband needed clothes for the upcoming Mother Lode Fair.
Lyons said sales have remained steady for the other bulwark of her business model, blue-collar workwear and uniforms for agencies such as CalFire and the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office.
“I feel I have a responsibility to have our law enforcement and fire to have an outlet in their community,” she said.
Let’er Buck will hold a liquidation sale for the western wear between March 23 and April 6. It’s doors will close on South Washington Street by mid-April.
Lyons’ story is not uncommon, with other downtown businesses blaming their closures on either online shopping or changes in ownership.
Patricia Tippett, former owner of the now-closed Banyan Tree Store, said her business struggled to contend with online retailers.
“I can’t compete with Amazon. I was a dressing room for Amazon,” she said in October 2018.
Banyan Tree, which was located at 59 S. Washington St. and specialized in clothing, furniture, housewares, jewelry and antiques, closed to the public on Sept. 30.
A sign on the window still advertises the ground-floor commercial unit at $2,520 a month for 2,400 square feet of space.The upper level is advertised at $686.25 a month for 915 square feet.
County records show the parcel associated with 59 and 61 S. Washington St. is owned by Michael Tippett of Sonora with a total land and improvements value of $227,196.
Tracy Hoyle, former owner of Sonora Used Books at 21 S. Washington St., said a change of building ownership forced her to vacate by the end of January the business she operated for 30 years at that location.
Hoyle said she would have been unable to relocate her approximately 40,000 books during the transition to a new site in Sonora or at Columbia State Historic Park.
“I decided it was time for a new chapter ,because I realized I couldn’t find a location I could afford for my business,” she said in January.
According to county records, the land and improvements associated with the former Sonora Used Books parcel has a value of approximately $175,693 and is owned by multiple persons.
Funky Junk, a consignment and vintage store located at 71 S. Washington St., also said a change in building ownership precipitated their decision to close.
Owner Micki Rucker said she decided to not pursue a new lease with a pending owner while the historic Mundorf Building is in escrow. According to county records, the land and the 6,500-square-foot structure were valued at $577,000 in 2016 while it was owned by Stockton resident John Bevanda.
Though the vacancies were concerning, Rucker said a new generation of businesses could take their place and revitalize the downtown marketplace.
“Sonora is a great city. I just hope with all these other stores closing, for whatever reason, I hope we get new blood. We need it,” she said.
Quinn also added his hope that the vacancies would create an “upswell” of new merchants to fill the vacancies.
“Everybody is concerned about the businesses leaving but, putting the shoe on the other foot, there have been a lot of businesses that have been there for 20, 30 years,” he said. “Sonora is not going away.”
Other high-profile business closures in downtown Sonora over the past years include Bedazzled, a clothing store at 160 S. Washington St., and Out of Hand Creative Arts Center at 189 S. Washington St.
Restaurant and bar closures include Winters Tavern Mother Lode Grill at 275 S. Washington St., Ryderz Family Restaurant at 160 S. Washington St., and The Cheesy Winer at 181 S. Washington St.
The Bourbon Barrel and Stage 3 closed during the construction of the Sonora Armoury at 208 S. Green St. and have not reopened.