The General Store Paso Robles Celebrates Ten Years of Connecting Local Makers to the People
For hundreds of years, communities gathered their daily goods and trades at the local general store. These shops were the people’s connection to the world and to each other. The General Store Paso Robles has been our connection to our local makers and creators for the past decade.
Three women, Jillian, Erin, and Joeli, bonded by their appreciation and enthusiasm for artisan producers and all things tasty, lovely, and useful, opened the General Store Paso in the heart of downtown Paso Robles in 2013.
Co-Founder Joeli said, “We saw a need for an easier way to connect local makers to the people who wanted handmade, artisan goods, and wanted to do that in a welcoming, warm, and Paso-focused way.”
But without the encouragement of another local and woman-owned business, General Store Paso may have never opened on the park. Longtime and beloved boutique Firefly opened in downtown Paso Robles in 2006, offering a unique and thoughtful collection invoking the whimsical side of life. Ten years ago, they made the move from 13th and Park Street to 12th Street. The General Store Paso team, longtime Firefly customers, found support and encouragement from the mother-daughter duo, Laurel and Emily, to open their own little slice of heaven.
Paso Robles Press Magazine sat down with the women at General Store Paso and Firefly to learn more about their decade in business and what the next 10 years hold for them.
PM: What is it like to own a business with three women?
GS: We could find no examples of a business run by three women when we started out, not one. But we had done research about the importance of vision work and business planning in partnerships, so we did a ton of personal, group, and legal work to make sure we were all on the same page. Our friendship was invaluable, so we put as many guardrails in place as we could business owners, and, ultimately, it has given us strength, stamina, and joy.
PM: What inspired you to open Firefly?
FF: My mom, Laurel, and I had always daydreamed about opening our own store. I grew up going on shopping trips with her and my grandma, and we always loved finding creative places with interesting and unique items. We used to talk about what our store would be like. When I moved back to the Central Coast in 2006, we decided that it was the right time to finally start something together. Paso was rapidly growing into a serious wine destination, but the downtown was pretty quiet at the time. We wanted to be a part of the downtown resurgence and to provide locals and tourists with a fun spot to find beautiful and affordable things.
Our first version of Firefly was a combination fine art gallery and craft gallery that was located at the corner of 13th and Park. As time went on, we transitioned away from the gallery, moving instead to a more traditional retail space, while still keeping the creative presentation and elaborate window displays.
PM: What does it mean to you to have been open for 10 years?
GS: We remember so clearly the day we opened how the register drawer jammed just minutes before we were set to pull the paper off the front windows. We were overwhelmed by the support of our friends and community, but we also remember people saying, “are you going to get more stuff?” Ten years in, it’s powerful to think of so many businesses we’ve seen launch and then blossom. And those goods are what fill our much, much more full shelves.
PM: What is it like to run a business with family?
FF: It has been both wonderful and challenging. Wonderful because you know that you always have each other’s back, and there’s a deep level of trust. Challenging because you can’t just walk away. If there’s a conflict, you have to work it out because, at the end of the day, this is your family, and you love them. But we’ve learned so much about each other over the years, and we both value that. It’s definitely made our relationship stronger over time, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know my mom as a person (and not just as my parent).
PM: How have Firefly and General Store Paso supported each other?
GS: Firefly was generous from day one about their plan to move to the location on the park. It was only after talking with them that we decided to go for it. Sometimes people talk about us as competitors, but we don’t see it that way. The pie is big enough for all of us. Also, they are very glamorous neighbors to have. We’re more of a jeans and Sharpie vibe, and they always have incredible style.
PM: What are you most proud of when it comes to your business?
GS: We love each other and are more family than we were the day we opened. We have built a business that’s sustainable and takes care of people. And that we’ve been able to support groups like ECHO, Must! Charities, and World Central Kitchen, in meaningful ways.
PM: What advice would you give to other women who hope to become business owners?
GS: Love and respect each other by doing the very tedious but critical groundwork, including an operating agreement. Also, get ready to work really hard, and be seen and known and supported in a way that will change your life.
PM: How do you contribute to the community?
GS: We give in the ways we can (either time, money, or a crock pot of chili) to Must! Charities and ECHO. We also feel strongly about promoting inclusiveness and respect for our neighbors in the store. We want every person who walks through our doors to feel welcomed.
PM: What would you like people to know about your shop?
GS: When we opened, it looked like online shopping could be the end of independent stores, and COVID accelerated that even more. Fortunately, our community did not let that happen to us and so many of our neighbors. People still have a need for human connection. We see it every day in their willingness to seek out the small and handmade, how much fun it is to talk to a person in real life, and the satisfaction of discovering things without an algorithm. Stores like ours only work when people walk the walk, and our community does that.
PM: What does the next 10 years look like for your shop?
GS: More inspiration, more dancing behind the register, more small makers, more big laughs. More giving, more hugs, and a ton more joyfulness together.
PASO ROBLES PRESS MAGAZINE
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