Enjoy the Journey at Plum Crazy in Red BluffStory by Melissa Mendonca
Photos by Alexis LeClair
Sometime in her early 40s, Janell Fitzgerald had a quiet evening with her son Clark and mused about changing careers, from reading meters for PG&E to something more vibrant and creative. Every time she visualized a new path, she brought herself back to reality with thoughts of responsibilities. Health insurance. Retirement plans. A regular paycheck.
“You don’t have to do that,” Clark said of the responsibilities weighing his mom down. “You think you do, but you don’t.”
Those simple words inspired Janell to continue dreaming big. Not much later, she spent an enthusiastic dinner with her husband, Rick, in downtown Red Bluff’s Los Mariachi’s restaurant, verbalizing ideas for a boutique and hair salon. As she was talking, they watched a “For rent” sign go up in the window of a long-shuttered building across the street. She immediately knew it was the place for her vision.
Rick asked for a business plan. She hastily wrote one down on scrap paper. They paid the dinner tab and walked across the street to inquire about the building. Six weeks later, they opened Plum Crazy, a now-bustling business in the historic district of Red Bluff where people enjoy boutique shopping and stylish salon services.
While the decision to open may have seemed hasty at first, Janell didn’t run out and quit her job the next day. She spent days reading meters and conducted a complete remodel of the building at night with Rick, a contractor. They added six stylist stations and a boutique area in front, the latter of which now receives an overhaul every six months.
A tile entryway was created at the front door with left over tiles from the Gerber pool that a friend’s dad had been storing. She added a yellow ribbon to the piece in honor of Clark, who was by then in the Army serving in Afghanistan.
“San Francisco is a big part of my inspiration for the shop,” she says. “I go there a lot.” In her quest for boutique items, she keeps in mind value to the customer and aesthetics. In reflecting on the days she spent envisioning her business, she says, “I wanted to have a shop where you could go in and buy a gift for a friend between $10 and $20 and have fun and have it gift wrapped. Gift giving should be a fun thing, not a dreaded thing.”
“I probably work a lot more hours than I did at PG&E,” she says, “but it’s what I like to do.” And of that risk-taking? “Amazingly enough, I can buy my own medical insurance and pay all my bills doing what I love,” she adds with a smile.
For Janell, the sense of success goes way beyond the financial. It’s having her daughter Markie at a stylist station after honing her skills at a busy San Francisco salon for a year. It’s working in close collaboration with Rick, who she describes as “the behind the scenes man.” It’s the close-knit relationship she shares with her employees and customers. “I love it when parents come in of people I grew up with,” she says, “or customers I had reading meters at PG&E.”
Her close ties to friends and family were what kept Plum Crazy afloat when, after a year in business working both the boutique and as a hair stylist, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her sister, Jill, recently back in Red Bluff after years as a teacher in Santa Barbara, took on her responsibilities at the shop while she convalesced for several months in the best humor she could muster. “I got to be Charlie Brown for Halloween because I was bald,” she says.
2012 marked her fifth year being cancer-free and she says, “Every day I go to work and I pinch myself. I can’t believe it’s real. I just love it. We have a ton of fun. And then I think it’s even sweeter that I have my daughter working here. It’s icing on the cake. It makes me happy.”
“Patience and timing paid off,” she says. “I knew someday I wanted to do something different but it didn’t happen until I was 44.” Her advice to others is simple: “Enjoy the journey. Enjoy every step of the way. After being sick, I’ve learned to just enjoy this moment.”
“You can take a blank wall and make it whatever you want,” she says of the design philosophy that drives her overhauls of the boutique every six months. “It’s just like your life.” •
643 Main Street, Red Bluff