Former educator Seth Halpern has started his own version of the Welcome Wagon.
Calling it New Neighbors, Halpern and his wife Nicole go to new residents' homes to introduce people to area service businesses that sponsor him. They bring baskets overflowing with business cards, discount coupons, maps and guidebooks for the area. During their visits, the Halperns mention an accounting firm to go to for tax work, a heating and ventilating business to fix the furnace, and other handy service providers.
While it's a business, he doesn't like it to be seen as an advertising vehicle. Halpern views it as an important service that is needed to keep Plumas Lake and other new subdivisions from being mere bedroom communities for commuters.
"People don't know their neighbors these days," said Halpern. "It's like bringing over an apple pie. We want to bring over the apple pie, so to speak."
Not everyone welcomes the visits at first - perhaps because of the piles of literature they already have from vacuum cleaner salespeople, landscapers and others. Some homeowners start off negatively, taking on an "I'm not letting you in the house" attitude. But many of them warm up, Halpern said.
"First they think we're trying to sell them something," Halpern said. "When they realize we're not, they're quite receptive."
Halpern said the difference is that he is a real, live person offering a welcome to the community, an actual gift with information that's not sales oriented, and answers to questions about the community.
"It wasn't that long ago we were looking for a dentist, or a mechanic so we know how it feels," said Halpern. He and his wife moved from San Jose to Yuba City a few years ago.
Halpern's shop-local message is the mantra for businesses and chamber of commerce organizations everywhere. But population growth has made the effort more urgent in Yuba-Sutter. Many people are buying relatively affordable homes in Yuba-Sutter, and commuting to Sacramento for their paycheck.
The need to promote local shopping has given rise to new businesses and new advertising efforts. They are trying to tap into the business potential from relatively affluent newcomers moving to an impoverished area.
The Halperns started their business March 1 with a goal of 30 to 50 home visits every month. They have 25 sponsors.
They're one of two welcoming services that have sprouted up in Yuba-Sutter. In August, Chad Miller of Yuba City started Welcome Home, a business which mails out fliers and information to new homeowners. Miller said he has eight sponsors.
Miller said he started the business to stop new residents from shopping in Sacramento. He encourages them to shop in Yuba-Sutter instead.
"We want them to spend their dollars up here," Miller said.
Two Web sites also promote local shopping, YubaSutter Online and Shop YubaSutter.
Figures are not available on retail sales leakage to other areas, but one study is under way.
State Franchise Tax Board figures released this week show that incomes are rising here. The median income on Yuba County tax returns jumped almost 5.3 percent from 2002 to 2003 - the second biggest percentage rise in the state. It's likely that newcomers are boosting the incomes. Only Alpine County, a tiny rural county which beckons wealthy retirees with its mountain scenery, showed a larger increase.
But getting people to shop local is a challenge because of the geographic tug-of-war between Marysville and Yuba City, and shopping-rich cities like Roseville. Highway 70 commuters would have to drive past their homes after work to shop in Marysville. Many of the new homes are stuck out at Plumas Lake, far from any shopping centers.
Laura Nicholson, executive director of the Yuba-Sutter Chamber of Commerce, said a lot of people are used to shopping in metro Sacramento. But if they shop in Yuba-Sutter, that could have tremendous potential for businesses and for the community.
"Look at all those people, they come and move up here, they're used to shopping in the metro community," Nicholson said. "If we can get them to shift their buying efforts and come north, the community's going to be more profitable."
More merchants are seeing people from new subdivisions, Nicholson said. Weekend events are key to getting people to shop local, and know the town.
"Plus it makes them part of the community rather than just commuters," Nicholson said.
Nicholson and other business leaders are hoping that more new residents will be like Merrilee Leinweber, 28, who moved with her husband and two kids from Hawaii to the Plumas Lakes area in November.
Leinweber said she does about 90 percent of her shopping in Marysville and Yuba City and only 10 percent in Sacramento. Some Sac metro stores like Gap Kids are indispensable. But she also likes Marysville's D Street with its little shops which offer things like scrapbooking supplies and candy.
"I definitely like to support local businesses, local restaurants," Leinweber said.
Appeal-Democrat reporter John Dickey can be reached at 749-4711. You may e-mail him at email@example.com.