Our 2009 Small Business Awards

True diversity, golden survivors, chain alternatives, and pure grit: Our annual salute to small business
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EMPLOYEE-OWNED BUSINESS AWARD

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Photo by Pat Mazzera

CHURCH STREET FLOWERS

"It was really all about trust," says Stephanie Foster of Church Street Flowers, when asked about the benefits and perils of transferring ownership of the delightful bouquet boutique — and perennial Guardian Best of the Bay winner — near the Castro to the employees. Foster, along with Rachel Shinfeld and Brianna Foehr, took over in December 2008 from previous owners Michael Ritz and Thomas Teel, who'd run the shop for a decade. "The three of us had worked here for a while and we knew our stuff, so Michael and Tom knew they could rely on us to preserve the legacy. And the outpouring of support from our neighbors and regular customers has been overwhelming."

The ownership change of the cozy shop, bursting with vibrant blooms and friendly energy, went off without a hitch. "We were part of the lucky few who received a small business loan before the economic collapse," Shinfeld says. "But our business plan was smart, and the bank saw that we knew what we were doing." And, even in the current climate, business is thriving. "Our arrangements aren't your standard cookie-cutter stuff," Foster says. "People nowadays want personalized, reasonably priced, green-minded, and locally sourced. We fit into all that — most of our flowers are from the downtown flower market and we keep an eye out for organic. Plus we strive to create a real connection with our customers, so we can give them exactly what they want."

"Sure, there have been some adjustments," Shinfeld adds. "There's a lot of paperwork — and the first thing we needed to tackle was a Web site redesign. But our experience working here helped us through, and I think we're just beginning to blossom in our new roles." (Marke B.)

CHURCH STREET FLOWERS

212 Church, SF

(415) 553-7762

www.churchstreetflowers.com

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GOLDEN SURVIVOR AWARD

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Photo by Charles Russo

GREEN APPLE BOOKS

What is the special ingredient that transforms a business from just another store into a place that makes people feel inspired and connected? After 42 years as a San Francisco independent bookseller, Green Apple Books and Music seems to have found it. Located on Clement Street in a building that predates the 1906 quake, it's a "big, sprawling, dusty and funky new and used bookstore," as co-owner Pete Mulvihill describes it, creating an atmosphere for interactions that might seem impossible in a big-box store. Several weeks ago, for instance, a customer approached the store clerks, presented a CD, and requested that they play it. He also asked them to clear out the philosophy room. "I want it to myself for just a minute," he explained. The staff complied, the music started, and the man whisked his girlfriend into the philosophy room and proposed to her.

"To me, that's an honor that somebody loves the place so much that they would propose to their girlfriend here," says Mulvihill, one of three owners and an employee for more than 15 years. A founding member of the San Francisco Locally Owned Merchants Alliance, he has been at the forefront of a push to identify and promote the city's small, independent businesses.