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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

Root: A Community General Store

Apr 27, 2016 03:04PM ● By Ronda Alvey

Creating Community

By Jordan Venema
Photo: Tamara Orth
May 2016

Not very long ago, downtown Fresno was – to put it euphemistically – going through a period of transition and growth. Though the arrival of Chukchansi Park in 2002 had given it a much-needed boost, its streets were still littered, and many of its buildings neglected.

In 2011, local businesses took matters into their own hands by forming the Downtown Fresno Partnership, a Property and Business Improvement District that allocated funds to maintain and improve the downtown area. Since then, downtown Fresno has seen something of a renaissance, with more businesses popping up, bringing more shoppers with them. Late last year, the Partnership further fostered development by holding a competition that awarded $10,000 to a new business that would open downtown. 

Perhaps there was never any doubt that downtown Fresno would see this kind of renewal and growth – it was only a matter of individuals taking the initiative to plant root.

One business must have taken that idea to heart when it recently opened in downtown Fresno. Root, which describes itself as a community general store, is a collaboration between husband and wife Kirk and Cassey James.

The couple relocated to Fresno last June from the Los Angeles area, where they had been living for 15 years. Cassey, who studied fashion design, had been working as a wardrobe stylist, while Kirk “ended up working in the fashion design world, designing men’s lines,” says Cassey. “He even had a T-shirt company.”

Originally from Riverside, Cassey attended high school in the Clovis area, where Kirk also grew up. Despite building careers in the design and art community in Los Angeles, Cassey says they always knew they’d move back to Fresno – they just weren’t sure what they were going to do.

“In L.A., we got really accustomed to shopping local, supporting small unique boutiques and stores and businesses,” says Cassey. “So when we made the move up here, we felt that Fresno could use more stores like that.” The only catch: “We’d never done retail before.”

The idea for a store was expedited to reality when the Jameses heard about the Downtown Fresno Partnership’s Create Here competition. “We got really excited, and put all the work in,” says Cassey. They came up with a business plan, put gears in motion, and submitted the idea for a utilitarian, artisanal general store. 

Root ended up a semi-finalist in the competition, and didn’t win the $10,000, but “once we put in all the work, we just sort of felt like, you know, whether we win this thing or not, we might as well start moving forward.”

On October 4, Root opened, creating a space that “focuses on carrying local, USA-made artisan goods,” says Cassey. “Basically, I would say like utilitarian products, where everything has a purpose.”

From skin care to soaps, candles to books, perfumes to hats, even a little bit of vintage and home goods, Root has brought to Fresno a bit of the big city boutique.

Though neither had retail experience, Cassey especially drew up her expertise as a designer and stylist to create a unique space. “That is the best part about owning a retail space,” she says, “the joy to be able to do not just anything you want, but to display and design what you love, and to visually create a pleasing environment.”

The James family pulled from artisans locally and in California. Cassey is excited about Basil Wood, a family-run local goat’s milk company. They also sell hats made by a Long Beach company, Yellow 108, and an herbal skincare line from L.A. called Root Stalk. 

“We are also one of the only people around here that carry raw denim,” says Cassey. “My husband is a big denim and mustache guy, so we carry a company called Rogue Territory,” designed and made in downtown L.A.

But the products are only one spoke of the creative hub at Root. “We wanted to be a creative hub and not just a retail store,” says Cassey. “That was really important to us.” 

Besides the retail aspect in front, they have an area in the back where Kirk and Cassey do screen-printing. But even in addition to maintaining a space that serves both customers and their own creative business, the Jameses are beginning to open their store to those who are interested in creating their own products, by offering a variety of workshops.

Early this year they offered their first workshop, a course in leather-crafting. The $30 fee included materials, snacks and a professional teacher who showed them how to cut and stamp leather, as well as create rivets. 

“We want to educate people and make it a place to come and learn and inspire themselves to make and create things,” says Cassey. They hope that in the future, workshops will host artisans whose products they carry in store.

Should their workshops take off, the name Root will have a special significance, by contributing to the growth not only of downtown Fresno, but also the creative community they now serve. Cassey admits there was something to the name: “Yeah, you know, it’s coming back to our roots in Fresno, and also finding new ones.” 

Root: A Community General Store

1239 Fulton Mall, Fresno • (559) 540-0460 

Tuesday-Sunday 11am-7pm •

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