Think of West Marin and you think of rolling hills and wild beaches, with some farmland, a few small villages and a lot of national parkland. And while West Marin contains more than half of Marin County's land, it is home to just 3% of the county's population.
The size of the retail sector is quite small. According to the West Marin Chamber of Commerce's business directory there are 14 retail stores in West Marin, with a similar number of places to eat and drink (for some reason this list doesn't include any stores in Bolinas or Stinson Beach).
Small grocery stores and services provide for the everyday needs of the population, with a larger number of gift, art and produce stores catering to tourists and other visitors. For larger purchases, most residents travel to the malls, markets and shopping centers in the population centers in the eastern part of the County.
And I didn't just make that last bit up: I took it from a study published last year. The West Marin Taxable Retail Sales Analysis, published by the California State University, Chico, set out to quantify the amount of retail sales that leaks out of West Marin to other areas. Using sales tax and census data, and employing an input/output modelling approach commonly used in economic development studies, the report reckons that West Marinites spend 80% of their retail dollars (or $200 million) outside of the West Marin area. The other key finding is that visitors to West Marin provide an estimated 73% of the sales at retail establishments in the area, with locals providing just 23%.
The study is being followed by a survey of local residents, designed to find out where they shop and why. Then it will be up to local organizations, such as Think Local First of West Marin, to make sense of the findings and put a plan into action to preserve and maybe expand the role of local retail businesses in the West Marin economy.