“The Trainer” Mike Elliott © Benoit Malphettes
The Bakers, featuring the Perrone Brothers. © Benoit Malphettes
The Bakers, featuring the Perrone Brothers. © Benoit Malphettes

I started writing this column Saturday night while sitting in Molino’s Coffee in Downtown Riverside located across from The Mission Inn. The shop was full of college students – I was probably the oldest person there – sitting with their eyes focused on their laptops and tablets or the many other devices scattered among them, sipping vanilla lattes or coconut green tea and nibbling on chocolate chip cookies.

Sitting there reminded me why the places that make up our communities are so important. It is where we gather to meet friends…congregate to be connected to other people…and spend money on items and services we need, building a local economy, and allowing our cities to flourish and thrive. That is the reason I enlisted my colleagues in what has turned out to be a year-long project to highlight some of the city’s most recognizable and unique small businesses.

The Trainer, featuring Mike Elliott. © Benoit Malphettes.

The Merchants of Riverside started as a small photo essay project for the VOICE that combined the artistic portraits created by my friends Benoit and Kathy Malphettes with short essays on local business owners.The project is now much larger in scope and includes an exhibit of large scale fine art prints which will be on display at the Riverside Art Museum during Small Business Week, the first week of May.

I met the Malphettes five years ago at Jammin’ Bread in Canyon Crest, one of the merchants we’re featuring. They were new to town, having just retired from successful careers in fashion and portrait photography. We would often chat as we waited for our lunch orders and soon realized we had much in common. Jammin’ Bread, over its almost two decades in business, has become one of those places that bring people together. I have made some good friends there over the years, people I look forward to seeing every week.

The Bookseller, featuring Linda Sherman-Nurick. © Benoit Malphettes.

As a team, we worked on a list of businesses to feature based on geography, diversity, and uniqueness. Some have been in business for over half a century and others are just getting started. All have chosen to make Riverside their home. All contribute to making the city a great place to live. There are the Perrone brothers who run the family sandwich shop D’Elia’s Grinders which has been in business for 60 years. Linda Sherman-Nurick who opened Cellar Door Books in Canyon Crest which has become a local hub for intellectual and cultural activity. And Mike Elliott, the CBU alum, who decided to build his fitness business in the heart of the city, helping keep Riverside residents fit and in shape.

Wells Fargo Bank has signed on as the first major sponsor and New York Life has joined the list of sponsors as well. If you are interested in becoming a sponsor or learning more about the project, please contact us at paulette@bpcmediaworks.com. And don’t forget to put May 1st on your calendar for the opening reception where you can meet the merchants and view the Malphettes’ incredible art.