Business

Berry Patch still full of surprisesJane Pomeroy has spent 30 years making customers into her friends.

"In Bainbridge, as elsewhere, retail establishments come and go. New uses are made of old spaces, and new owners replace old faces.Then there's the Berry Patch. It's been doing the same business for 30 years -- 22 in the same location. And from the outset, it's been Jane Pomeroy's store.My customers allow me to keep enjoying the job, she said. When they buy something from me, they have allowed me into their home. They don't become customers, they become friends to me.The store was the first tenant in the Winslow Mall, and the only one still under original ownership. In fact, Pomeroy doesn't think there are more than one or two stores on the island that have endured unchanged as long as hers.Pomeroy isn't quite an island native -- her family moved here from the Sacramento, Calif., area when she was 12. But she did go to Bainbridge High School and the University of Washington.She opened the store in 1971, shortly after graduating from the UW.I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do, but I wanted to come back to my own island, she said.There wasn't a gift shop here. I had been a home economics major, and I like to cook, so it all went together.Her original location was in the Village, on Hildebrand Lane. I was in a building that had been part of the World's Fair in Seattle, then was barged over here, she said.Bainbridge Gardens was one of her neighbors then, and so was Sears -- the present Safeway and Rite Aid complex was years in the future.The Berry Patch name tied both to the island and to her vision of what her store would be.In the back of my mind I was thinking about a blackberry patch. When you clean out a blackberry patch, you never know what you're going to find. I wanted the store to be something like that, Pomeroy said.Not surprisingly, a young entrepreneur right out of college had to fight for credibility.She recalls the first buying trip she went on to Los Angeles right after the store opened. The trade fair was several blocks from the hotel where the buyers were staying, and a shuttle bus came to pick them up.The buyers then were in their 40s and 50s, and they all wore suits, she said. Here I am, all of 21. When I tried to get on, the driver said, 'Young lady, you must be on the wrong bus.' I had to fight my way on, then walk past all those men in their suits.But islanders have taken to her mix of cookware, crockery, linens, housewares and other items to enhance the home.I always want the customer to have a good product, a long-lasting product, she said. I love products that have whimsey, rather than just being run-of-the-mill.She points to some pieces of children's furniture.Those are hand-painted. The combination of colors makes it an art form and gives it creativity.Ask Pomeroy to summarize 30 years of retailing, and she points out the sheer quantum of effort involved to keep up.It's a very physical job. You are moving boxes, unpacking things, packing for shipping, she said. And there's no way to keep up with the dusting and vacuuming.Although the identity of the Winslow Way merchants has been in constant flux, Pomeroy says the overall street itself has changed very little.The Mall, I think, may be the last building that was built, she said. It looks pretty much the same now as it did then.Another thing that hasn't changed much in the last two decades is the parking situation, she said.I was on a committee to study downtown parking about 20 years ago, and as far as I know, it's still being studied.I think the city hall (parking garage) proposal is really the last chance.Like a lot of other downtown merchants, she thinks the tight parking situation limits her ability to grow, an assessment based on comments from customers who say they were planning to stop, but couldn't find a parking space.Pomeroy said that the store's business comes overwhelmingly from islanders. As the island has grown, so has the business. Pomeroy is emphatically not one of the long-time islanders who resents the newcomers. In fact, she says they are her best customers.The new people that have moved in are much more gracious and willing to spend a dollar to support the community, she said. They're just so happy to be here. "

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