A whole lot is packed into Root, a tiny new store on the Fulton Mall: shelves of locally made goods, a printing and design business, a couple who moved home to be part of downtown’s revival and a dog named Sonny.
Root – billed as a general store selling “a little bit of everything” – is at 1239 Fulton Mall and opened in November. It’s in the space next to Peeve’s Public House – connected by an interior doorway – that used to house Peeve’s public market selling olive oil and other local foods.
Quick backstory here: After seeing farm-to-fork restaurants in other cities selling their olive oil and other local products actually in the restaurant, Peeve’s owner Craig Scharton moved two of the coolers and a set of shelves into the pub itself. The products have been selling well since the change, he says.
You don’t get this vibe in River Park.
Kirk James, Root
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That freed up space for Root, owned by husband-and-wife team Kirk, 35, and Cassey James, 33. For Cassey, having Peeve’s as a neighbor is the perfect pairing.
“We were stoked that we could be next to the hippest and most happening spot on the mall right now,” she says.
At Root, much of the clothing, skin care items, gifts and home goods are locally made. What’s not is made by small, independent, American designers.
“Everything in here is handcrafted, made in small batches,” says Cassey James, adding that most is organic or all-natural.
We like things that are good for you but also pretty.
Cassey James, Root
There’s also a stack of old Fresno coloring books designed by former Fresno Bee artist Doug Hansen. And wallets made from old baseball gloves and Rootstock, a line of skin care made by Cassey and a partner.
A few T-shirts with psychedelic unicorns with rainbows shooting from their horns and the word Fresno are selling for $25. They were inspired by T-shirts from Fresno’s old Penny Candy store and retooled by artist and author Tony Stamolis. The store also sells stickers featuring the same image.
Root sells beard oil designed to condition men’s beards.
And this type of work is where the printing and design part of the business comes in.
In the back of the store is a design and print studio where the Jameses create logos or album art, and design and print T-shirts.
Kirk is continuing the work he’s done for years for clients, many of them outside California. Cassey has a creative background too, with a career in styling outfits for photo shoots for print publications.
Cassey and Kirk met in high school. Both graduated from Buchanan High School in Clovis. They spent 14 years away from home, but had always planned to someday return the area to buy a house and start a family.
The move happened faster than they anticipated. When they came back for the rodeo last April, they found a house they loved in Fresno for sale. So they bought it.
Shortly after, the Jameses got swept up in the Downtown Fresno Foundation’s Create Here Business Plan Competition. The competition aims to build new businesses in downtown Fresno with perks like free rent.
“As soon as we moved back, we pretty much locked ourselves in the house and wrote a business plan,” Cassey says.
Root didn’t win, but the experience laid the groundwork for their opening in their current space. And after watching cities in Southern California undergo their own revitalization, the Jameses say they want to be part of what’s happening in downtown Fresno.
“We feel like it has so much potential down here and we’re really hoping it all comes together and everybody else can see how beautiful and how amazing downtown is,” Cassey says.
They chose the name Root for the business because it had multiple meanings for them and downtown, says Kirk: “Putting down roots, coming back to our roots and rooting for something.”
The couple also sells tote bags they printed that say “Root root root for our downtown.”
They also hope to make the store a “creative hub” by hosting workshops like the recent one-hour class about making leather trays.
On a smaller scale, the couple invited visitors to make their own leather key chain for $5 on a recent Art Hop night. The store was packed with people stamping names and words into leather for about six hours.
And what about that dog? Sonny was found running up and down the Fulton Mall a few weeks ago. They haven’t been able to find the beagle/hound mix’s owner, so he’s been settling in as shop dog.
Root is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and more information is available on its Facebook page.