It was 1999, and I was single again, driving to my new one-bedroom apartment. Might as well learn to cook, I thought, as I pulled into G&G Supermarket. Starting with something easy, I asked an employee for tips about kimchi. Quickly, I learned that everyone working at the store had ideas on cooking, and was happy to help craft my clueless ambition into edible dinners for one on a nightly basis. Those dinners for one are now dinners for three, but they're still bought at G&G. They've got a huge selection, great prices and scads of lesser common items that continue to pique my imagination after 14 years. 1211 W. College Ave., Santa Rosa, 707.546.6877;
701 Sonoma Mountain Pkwy., Petaluma, 707.765.1198.
For the longest time, I wondered where to get my lawnmower blade sharpened. Everyone I asked said Gardener's Aid in Roseland. They were friendly. They were funny. They had a showroom full of mowers and weed whackers and trimmers, along with some newspaper clippings about their family in the window and some old stuff tacked to the wall behind the counter. I asked about the blade sharpening. "Seven bucks if you bring it in off the mower," they said, "$12.50 if you need us to pull it off." Not only am I headed there as soon as spring is back with a haggard, blunt blade, I'll be checking out the rest of their inventory, too. 1050 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa, 707.545.7620.
Since it was founded back in 1988, Bedrock Music has been an oasis for central Marin music lovers caught in the bustle of the Miracle Mile. The greatest contrast with corporate culture was undoubtedly its shift to Bedrock Music and Video a few years ago. Unlike the big, red-slot-machine-looking thingy at every supermarket in the world, Bedrock has hard-to-find movies. They'll even give you an extra day or two if you need it, free of charge. Who can watch a whole season of Boardwalk Empire in a weekend, anyway? 2226 Fourth St., San Rafael. 415.258.9745.—David Sason
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For over 25 years, the friendly staff at California Luggage Co. have been sending people to the airport, boarding pass in one hand and quality luggage in the other. Walk in just about any hour of the day and there's a "personal shopper" experience going on, with a customer's personal packing and travel habits considered for the ideal luggage option. Local politicos, downtown merchants and journalists know owner Bernie Schwartz as the "silent mayor" of Santa Rosa—he knows everybody and everything—but two generations of customers know him as the best thing that ever happened to their vacation since even before the vacation began. 609 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707.528.5799. —Gabe Meline
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I'd already picked up a small chocolate cake and candles, but I knew that I needed something more. Something special. It was, after all, my daughter's first birthday. As a new dad, I was clueless as to what to get, but knew just where to go: the Toyworks. "Does she have a doll?" the woman asked, plain as day, after I presented my dilemma. Why hadn't I thought of that? Under $20 later, the Toyworks had me on my way home with an attractive, free wrapping job and a big red ribbon to boot. 531 College Ave., Santa Rosa, 707.526.2099; 6940 Sebastopol Ave., Sebastopol, 707.829.2003. —Gabe Meline
When you get down to it, Fatty's Threads is probably the best store in all of Sonoma County. Fatty's carries clothes, books, stereo equipment, tools, appliances, DVDs, bicycles, sporting equipment, art supplies, records, patio furniture, toys and more, but calling it a "junk shop" doesn't to it justice. Truly a neighborhood hub, it's also a meet-up place, a treasure hunt and a museum of oddities. Dave Puccetti, the truly friendly ringleader of Fatty's, acts more like a really great bartender than a store owner—doling out advice, giving opinions when asked and quoting you prices way below what you expected to pay. A full Atari 2600 system, from 1983, with joysticks, adapters and 30 game cartridges for just $25? Yes, it's that kind of shop. 1290 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa, 707.578.6916.—Gabe Meline
When my husband wanted to buy my two-year old, board-obsessed nephew his first skateboard, he headed over to Brotherhood Board Shop in Santa Rosa, where he bought a sweet deck for under $100. Owned by Jon Lohne, a longtime Santa Rosa, Brotherhood is everything that a skateboard shop should be. Stop in to pick up pretty much anything the skateboarder or snowboarder in your life wants and needs. In the summer, the shop brims with kids, young and old, busting out tricks in the parking lot at regularly hosted skate contests. And what's better than awesome service from people who leave, breathe and eat skateboarding? 1240 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.546.0660.
Dear Lord, please do not ever let Corrick's close. My house is packed with its inventory: Pilot G2 pens, envelopes, Sharpies, legal forms, a stuffed Snuffleupagus puppet . . . I still remember the first thing I ever bought there—a ribbon for my Olympia typewriter—and I will never forget the saleslady's sympathetic look one Christmas when she told me they were sold out of sweater lint shavers. I love that no one ever quits, that owner Keven Brown is always helpful, and that their back room has one those great old bank safe doors, and that they're coming up on their 100th anniversary. And like a lot of other Santa Rosans, I always walk in and think to myself, "Maybe someday I'll buy something from the front half of the store." 637 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707.546.2424.
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In an age of Netflix and Redbox and Hulu, how does an old-fashioned video rental store like Video Droid survive? Easy: knowing their shit. Often I'll be looking for something from some forgotten director made in some forgotten year with some forgotten actress, and lo, it shall be waiting for me on the shelf. Or on several occasions, it'll be ordered for me. "But I'm only going to rent it once," I protest. "That's OK. We'll put it in stock. Someone else will want to watch it, too." You can't beat service like that. Video Droid gets two thumbs up. 1462 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.526.3313.