A women’s clothing store in downtown Sonora will soon close after more than 30 years in business.
Joan’s Boutique, at 52 S. Washington St., joins a growing list of businesses in the city’s historic commercial district that have recently closed or announced they will soon shutter amid slumping sales that they believe is being driven by a mix of factors.
“The biggest cause was just simply a lack of foot traffic and business not doing what it did,” said John Richardson, who co-owns the store with his wife and its namesake, Joan.
John Richardson said he believes that the rise of shopping on the Internet has played a major role in the decline that they began seeing at the store over the past year.
The couple owned and operated Richardson’s Family Fitness Center in East Sonora from 1967 to 2007, which they closed after John Richardson decided to retire from running a gym full-time. He still does personal training on the side, however.
They opened the boutique in the mid-1980s across from Sonora Inn and moved to their current location about 13 to 15 years ago, the couple said.
Joan Richardson was previously selling leotards and other fitness gear out of the gym they operated for several years at Old Town Plaza in downtown Sonora, where the Italian restaurant Viney’s is now located.
John Richardson said his wife helped with the day-to-day operations of his gym, so he did the same for her whenever she needed help with the store.
“We’ve been a team for a long time,” he said.
To combat the negative impacts from Internet shopping, John Richardson said he believed that the city and its remaining merchants must work together to figure out strategies to adapt and boost business.
Looking into what Murphys has done over the years to foster a steady flow of foot traffic would be a good place to start, according to Richardson, who added that improving roads and increasing the availability of parking in the downtown area could also help.
“Murphys is just packed with cars, it’s unbelievable,” he said. “I don’t know the true answer, but it would be great to have a group of people trying to figure it out.”
The Richardsons and other retailers have also expressed lingering concerns about what will happen when the new courthouse for Tuolumne County Superior Court opens at the Law and Justice Center off Old Wards Ferry Road.
John Richardson, who was born and raised in Sonora, said he was optimistic about the city’s future despite the current and potential future challenges.
“Just because it’s a small town doesn’t mean it can’t work, but some adjustments need to be made,” he said. “Nothing really stays the same. You have to adapt with what’s happening.”
Joan Richardson echoed the sentiment about investments to improve roads and parking being something that could help the downward trend she and other retailers have experienced because of the Internet.
The bond she’s formed over the years with her employees and customers is what Joan Richardson said she’ll miss the most about having the store. She referred to her employees for the past 10-plus years, Elizabeth Kopf and Debbie Otts, as her “dream team.”
“I have loved my employees and my customers,” she said. “They are all great people.”
Kopf said she enjoyed the flexibility of the job because she would help out at the store part-time and full-time as needed.
Kopf also said she was “heartbroken and kind of in disbelief” about the closure, but felt that they had a good run.
“They’re two of my best friends and that will continue whether we work together or not,” she said. “I can truly say that I love them both dearly.”
The store will stay open while selling off the remaining inventory, which has been marked down 25 to 75 percent. Joan Richardson said she hoped to have it all gone by the end of this month.
Online marketplaces, increasing rental costs, lack of parking, changes in demographics, and concerns about the courthouse’s pending move have all been cited as reasons from some other local businesses closing.
However, concrete solutions have remained elusive despite many having ideas about what could or should be done to improve the situation.
Banyan Tree, formerly at 59 S. Washington St., closed last year after a nearly 20-year run that began in Twain Harte.
Patricia Tippett, the former owner of the Banyan Tree, told The Union Democrat in October that a lack of available customers and increasing competition from online retailers led to the demise of her business.
Tippett said her store had become “a dressing room for Amazon,” the largest online retailer and one of the world’s largest companies valued at nearly $1 trillion.
Funky Junk owner Micki Rucker announced last month that she will also soon be closing her consignment and vintage store at 71 S. Washington St., but cited a recent change in ownership of the historic building as the primary reason.
Similarly, the owner of the former Out of Hand Creative Arts Learning Center at 189 S. Washington St. that closed early last year cited the building’s change in ownership as what prompted her decision after more than 30 years at the location.
Rucker said that she decided not to pursue a new lease after the former owner of the 1850s building died last year, in part due to concerns about the future of the downtown area when the courthouse moves to the new Law and Justice Center.
The new courthouse is currently anticipated to open by early 2021, all of which is being funded and handled by the state as opposed to local government because the state controls the superior court system.
Let’er Buck Western Wear owner Laurie Lyons said she plans to close her clothing store at 68 S. Washington St. and move it to The Junction shopping center in East Sonora by the end of the month after seven years in the downtown area.
Lyons said she decided to relocate because her landlord wants to sell the building, in addition to declining sales from Internet retailers and less demand for women’s western wear.
Sonora Used Books closed at the end of January after 30 years in business at 21 S. Washington St. after the building was put up for sale by the owners. Former owner Tracy Hoyle said she was unable to find another space that she could afford to rent in the downtown area or elsewhere in the city.
Hoyle also cited a lack of places to park and consistent enforcement of parking laws over the nearly 10 years she owned the store.
Other businesses in downtown Sonora that have closed over the past couple of years include Bedazzled and Ryderz Family Restaurant that were both located formerly at the Sonora Inn, Winters Tavern Motherlode Grill at 275 S. Washington St., and the Cheesy Winer at 181 S. Washington St.
Contact Alex Maclean at email@example.com or (209) 588-4530.