You see them at the crafts fairs, farmers’ markets, and even out on the street. They’re the smallest of the small business people, micro-capitalists carving out a niche for their products wherever they can find a space.
Dunsmuir’s Bonnie Sheppard is one of the hardier souls among these micro-entrepreneurs. You can often find her working out of her small booth in north Dunsmuir, right off the main drag, selling her jams and raw honey. Last summer she was out there braving the smoke from wildfires. Last December she set up in downtown Dunsmuir, selling her products in near-freezing temperatures during the Candles In The Canyon festivities.
All the apples, blackberries and raspberries that go into her jams are picked locally. She cooks and processes them in the kitchen of the trailer she shares with her husband Ronald.
It’s an enterprise that requires very little startup capital but a lot of hands-on labor and persistence. For one thing, she has to work her way through an obstacle course of paperwork and permits, permits to sell directly to customers (costing at least $50 a year), a permit allowing her to place her products in stores ($120 a year, plus an annual inspection of the facility where she makes her products), and a permit, which requires taking a class and test, that certifies her to handle food destined for public consumption.
She makes a little extra money by selling her products in local stores and participates in a couple of local outdoor fairs and the Dunsmuir Farmers’ Market.
Sheppard is reluctant to reveal how much she makes from her operations, saying only that it’s a “hobby” that “helps me make ends meet.”
She notes that this hobby, with all its challenges, does have certain advantages. “I can sell right near where I live. I’m my own boss, and I can do it whenever I feel like it.”
Dakota Carter also braved the wildfires last year. She was out at the Mount Shasta Farmers’ Market, wearing a mask and selling her natural body care and beauty products. But she noticed a decline in customer traffic at the market due to the smoke.
When I talked to Carter she had moved from Dunsmuir to Portland and was temporarily staying with relatives. But she was getting ready to head down to Redding for what she called a “vacation,” to sell her wares at the annual Health Expo there. She participates in Dunsmuir’s Holiday Crafts Fair in November, Earth Day in Redding, and McCloud’s Mushroom Festival, and she has her Uplifting Products in local stores. Like many craftspeople, she also sells some of her products online.
All this entrepreneurial activity brings in enough income, she says, to pay the rent and most of her expenses, but by winter she usually has to look for a part-time job.
“In our area, as a small entrepreneur, you have to get a little creative,” she says.
Kate O’Grady rarely ventures out of her Dunsmuir home to sell her handmade jewelry and hair accessories. She sells them online through the Etsy website. Her enterprise, which she named Willow And Quinn after two rescue cats, earns enough to pay her what she calls a “livable wage.”
Her handmade products go all over the world, including recent shipments to Prague, Paris, and Abu Dhabi.
O’Grady does get out and sell directly to the public once a year, at Dunsmuir’s Holiday Crafts Fair. And she has plans to get her products out into stores this year.
There are definitely some pluses to all this grassroots entrepreneurial activity: None of these small-time operators punch a clock or take orders from a boss. And there’s a good deal of creative satisfaction in what they do. But there are the inevitable bureaucratic hurdles and paperwork – and, for Carter and especially Sheppard, the vagaries of weather and the increasing threat of wildfires.