Family threads: The longevity of the Eraldi family business
Taken in the early 1950s, shown here are (from left) Don Eraldi, employee Gino Scotto; Annie Eraldi; and Dave Eraldi. The store is on First Street East, ext to the original Mission Hardware. Annie and David Eraldi started the business in 1922.
On the west side of the Sonoma Plaza sits a retail store that is a global flagship for customer service. There are no glitzy point-of-sale displays. No chi-chi countertop towers and certainly no one at the door spritzing men's cologne. But there is the wonderful aroma of fine leather shoes, muted tones and bright primaries of beautifully crafted men's clothing, and some of the best Sonoma T-shirts around.
This is a store that sees five buying customers before 10:15 a.m. on a pouring-down-rain Monday. Eraldi's Shoes and Men's Wear has been a Sonoma staple since 1922 - when men's shirts had detachable collars. The March 23, 1928, issue of the Index-Tribune stated, "David (Dave) Eraldi, progressive young business man, has let the contract for a handsome new home ... on Napa Street opposite the E. T. Casson place."
Patriarch David Eraldi owned the first "Eraldi's" on the Plaza's east side. Today's location on the west side was built in 1960. "This was the 'quieter' side of the Plaza in those days," smiles Don Eraldi, 82, and the second generation at the store. Today, his son, Dan Eraldi, 53, makes the third generation at the store. Don's wife. Faye, still comes and helps out during hunting season so that "the boys" can indulge their outdoor interests. Even bookkeeper Cora Dunham - a customer before becoming an employee - has been with the business for 30 years.
Eraldi's has a thoughtfully chosen selection of everything from the innermost layer to the sports coat: an undeniably current, varied, high-quality range of menswear and shoes: everything short of suits but including tuxedo rental. An even rarer gem is the incredible customer service. People come from literally everywhere to shop here. Did the airline lose his luggage on the way to a Wine Country wedding? Toner cartridge explode on your shirt at work? Leave your running shoes at mom's in Denver? Solution: Eraldi's.
Ranchers and their families were the first customers, and their grandchildren are still customers today. Those with second homes in the area are repeat customers, along with a group of dedicated Sacramento fans. One customer said, "...over the years it has emerged as the men's equivalent to a fashion boutique of tried and true mixed with modern and eclectic. Still family owned and they will take custom orders..."
A local customer wrote online, "I walked in today for a present and he (Dan) remembered things my Dad bought before, what size he needed, even the styles he tended towards! He is one of the nicest men on the planet and wonderful at customer service ... If you're looking for pretty much anything in Man World, do come here. Their prices are competitive, their selection is really great and you won't find better people. You just won't."
How do they keep the store viable over decades? "Word of mouth. Tradition. Newspaper ads and high school yearbooks," said Dan. "It's all local marketing and referrals, and a positive association with the store," agrees Don. "Services like one-day alterations help," he said. Both men agree that their pricing is also consistently competitive. In fact, Macy's sale prices are Eraldi's regular prices on many items, and a wide selection of slacks and jeans are always below sticker price. "There's definitely a tag-pricing game in the industry," Dan said.
It's a game the store just doesn't play, though both are sensitive to international pressures in clothing manufacture. "There are ongoing issues of changing international-clothing assembly contracts," states Dan. He believes it's impossible to work in the clothing business offering Eraldi's breadth of items without labels saying "fabric made in USA, assembled in Dominican Republic," or a dozen other countries whose lower standards of living make labor keenly competitive.
Dan said that even quintessential American Pendleton(r) shirts are made of U.S. fabrics assembled elsewhere. "Certainly manufacturers using less expensive labor don't pass along their savings to American customers, but the imports keep inflation down," he said. A typical customer comment: "Save me a 46, as long as it's not made in China!"
"The store is laid back and old fashioned," said Don. And Dan agrees. "The customers like it. We don't over-serve them, but we're here to help with colors, style, cut, if they need it." There's welcoming background music in the store, but no hip-hop music. "Yet ..." Dan said with a smile.
The family has been a huge supporter of local sports and league play. Don Eraldi certainly met serious challenges to his sports goals, and even with several notable interruptions, he played basketball and fast-pitch softball for 40 years. His brother joined the Navy right after Pearl Harbor, which left Don at age 15, as the family male at the store (their father, David, died at 79 before the war began). His mother asked the high school to send Don home after a store clerk was assigned to essential industry at Miramar - interrupting both Don's sports career and his education. When he was old enough to join the Navy himself, and on board a destroyer in San Diego literally on its way into the Pacific, the war ended and the ship turned around. This left Don with no place to play ball: too old for the high school leagues and not ready for college. So he finished high school, went to Napa Valley Junior College and became an All-League basketball selection. Eventually this determination to be involved in sports benefited the community in a big way.
Even before World War II there were leagues in Sonoma, but no central playing field. After the war in 1950, Don's older brother, Dave, decided that Sonoma needed a ball field. At a time when new houses sold for $11,000, volunteers raised more than $25,000 in less than a year to buy the land and build Arnold Field. Don remembers the overwhelming community support.
"Carpenters came from their regular jobs directly to the field as volunteers. Families brought homemade lunches for everyone. People from the City (San Francisco) turned out for work parties. When Dave died, people wanted to name the ball park 'Eraldi Field,' but Dave's widow knew he wouldn't have liked it, so they named the field at Sassarini School 'Dave Eraldi Park' instead," said Don. "He did three times what I did. I sold a lot of bonds, but it was all Dave's idea." The field opened in 1951.
Meanwhile, at 10 years old, Dan started coming in to the store to do chores and straighten the stacks.
He worked weekends and summers "forever." After high school, Dan majored in business at Sacramento State, adding ideas and skills to his experience and upbringing in the store.
Dan's sister, Marianne, opted out of the business and subsequently became one of the first female railroad engineers in the country. She currently lives in Tucson.
From the end of men's business hats in the 1960s to the sideburn-wearing 1970s, the Eraldis agree that's when men began to take serious interest in clothing. Through the end of the last century and onward to Tommy Bahama and Lucky, Eraldi's Shoes and Men's Wear has outfitted the well-dressed man from its store on the Plaza.
What's next, especially since Dan and his wife, Vikki, have two daughters? "We know one is going into nursing," said Dan. "Too soon to tell about our younger daughter!" When asked when he thinks his Dad might retire, he smiles. "Never."
• • •
Deb Carlen is a marketing strategist, writer, and designer living in Sonoma. Eraldi's makes her want to find a guy and buy wonderful clothes for him. Maybe.