Written by The Business Journal Staff
Kirk James, Partner
Root General Store
Graduated from Buchanan (Clovis) in 1999, moved south to Long Beach State where I got a fine arts degree in printmaking with a emphasis in graphic design. Worked for a couple clothing brands designing men’s clothes for many years. Had a short stint with an ad agency. Past five years, I’ve mainly been doing freelance art and screen printing for bands T-shirts, posters and album art.
Family: Married to Cassey, who is my partner in the business.
What led you to open a store on the Fulton Mall, Kirk?
Whenever Cassey and I would come back to visit family we found ourselves spending a majority of our time downtown and at Peeve’s on the Fulton Mall. There was an exciting energy about it, and where else can you go in Fresno and experience this setting with such amazing history, culture and architecture? We would always talk about what we would do when we moved back because we knew we always wanted to — it was just a matter when. We had plans to move back in 2016, but then once we heard about the plans to open the mall back up to traffic and all the other changes happening downtown, we knew we had to move earlier. We wanted to be here at the early stages of the revitalization and help support it any way we could. We saw downtown L.A., Long Beach, San Diego and many other cities revive their downtown and were excited for it to happen in Fresno and to be a part of it.
Can you describe your overall business philosophy, Kirk?
We want to become a creative hub for people to shop, learn and just come to hang out — a place to showcase consciously made products by local artists and other small brands made within the United States. It’s a place someone could come and be inspired to make or create something of their own. Besides the store front, we also have a screen printing studio in the back, offer design services and will start hosting creative workshops where people can come take a four-hour class on the weekend and learn a new trade and walk away with a finished product and the knowledge and appreciation of a new craft or trade.
Tell us a little about your business. What types of goods do you sell and do you have plans to change or expand your selection of inventory in the future?
We carry a variety of products, which is why we label ourselves as a general store. Everything is made in small batches by independent artists/designers. If we can find it locally here, it’s definitely our priority. We have some apparel, home goods, skincare, jewelry, books and other gift-y items. But were constantly looking for new products to carry in the shop. We’re learning from our customers and get requests for certain items so we begin sourcing a good fit for the shop.
What are your thoughts about the conversion of the Fulton Mall and are you worried the construction might impact your business, Kirk?
We’re pretty excited about the mall opening back up to traffic. I love the way it is now. It’s like a big playground for pedestrians and cyclists but other than that, it’s not drawing people down here and definitely not drawing new businesses to open up. I am sad to see it go but something needs to change. And more importantly I think it’ll prove to so many people who are tired of hearing the talk of opening it back up that the city does believe in its downtown and is finally taking action to make it happen. We’ve seen a lot of Southern California cities go through revitalizations, which was a big reason we moved back to Fresno when we did. We wanted to get in early and be a part of it as much as we can. Against the advice of so many people we had our minds set and we wanted to be on the Fulton Mall. I’m excited for the construction to start. I’m sure a lot of people who work downtown might be nervous about the noise, dust and whatever else may stir up, but I think it’s also going to make a lot of people curious and help drive some new people down here to see what’s going on.
What was the best advice you ever received and who did it come from, Kirk?
I grew up on seven acres of dirt in Clovis so there were always chores to do. One thing that’s been imbedded into my head that my dad always said was about “burning daylight.” Maybe more of a motto than advice but it stuck and I think it has shaped my work ethic.
Who or what has been the biggest influence on your career, Kirk?
There’ve been many people who have guided and influenced me over the years. Probably most important as of recent has been my wife Cassey. Moving back to Fresno was a big leap for both of us and a major career change for her. Opening the store and starting a business together here has definitely been a highlight in both of our careers.
What are your roots in the Central Valley, Kirk?
I was born in Fresno and raised in Clovis, moved south around 2000 for college and had been down there for the past 15 years, but always called Fresno home as all of my family is here. So it’s good to be back.
What was your very first job and what did you learn from it, Kirk?
During summers off high school I would get up at 4 a.m. and go do maintenance work at Copper River Country Club. Besides learning about landscape maintenance and how to operate the equipment, it was probably the responsibilities of getting a job done correctly and on time without being babysat. Actually the biggest thing I learned about myself is I do not like to get up that early.
What do you like to do in your spare time, Kirk?
Travelling, camping, roadtrips, shopping for antiques, records or other gems and seeing live music. A big worry of mine moving back to Fresno was not being able to go out on any given night like in L.A. and see good live music. But luckily Fresno has proven that to be wrong. I’m blown away with the number of good bands that either live here or travel through Fresno.