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2021 Spirit of Marin

In a typical year, the Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce selects a business or “business citizen” of the year at Bank of Marin’s annual Spirit of Marin Awards to be honored for their community contributions and achievements.

As we all can attest, 2021 was not even remotely a typical year, so the Chamber is honoring both a business and a business citizen. First up is the Canepa family, longtime owners of the Mill Valley Market, a landmark institution in town and a bedrock supporter of the community in ways that go beyond a typical grocery store.

In 17 months like no other, the Mill Valley Market exemplified everything the community could hope for from an “essential service” that helped the Mill Valley community navigate safely through COVID, fire season and a seemingly endless array of challenges. Early on, the team tapped fellow Spirit of Marin Awardee Jim Iavarone of Mill Valley Refuse Service to install hygiene stations outside for employees, shoppers and anyone who wanted to use them. They are still there.  

With hundreds of people coming through the small store and everyone afraid, the Canepas prioritized employee safety, supporting anyone who needed to stay home.  When there were no masks to be found, family members and friends sewed 300-400 masks for employees. While large grocery stores relied on a few vendor challenged to pivot, the Canepas’ tapped their network of hundreds of small distributors to resupply empty shelves, often re-packaging enormous bags of flour and other essentials into small quantities for anxious customers.  When local restaurants stopped buying fresh food, the Mill Valley Market helped local vendors desperate to find new outlets for limited shelf-life products.

Family members stepped in to deliver groceries ordered online. Folks worked around the clock. The market’s success keeping the community fed and employees safe brought out the best in the Mill Valley community as well. On behalf of the family, Ryan Canepa publicly expressed his deep appreciation in an Outdoor Art Club webinar for following the rules, wearing masks, and being patient and understanding.

City Manager Alan Piombo

The entire duration of the COVID-19 crisis was fraught with economic and societal peril, but few moments were more anxious in the Mill Valley business and nonprofit community than those first few months after the shelter in place order was issued. 

Indoor anything was largely off the table. We needed to completely rethink how business functioned. The moment called for creativity, leadership and a willingness to break the mold so Mill Valley’s business and nonprofit community could survive amidst chaos. With the backing of the City Council and the dogged support of the Mill Valley Chamber, City Manager Alan Piombo seized the moment. A former longtime police officer who had only been in the executive role for a few months, Piombo dove deeply into collaborating with his colleagues across the county and leading the drafting of a broad policy framework that became a safety net for innovation through the next 15-plus months. 

The result – a ministerial approval system for the private use of both public and private spaces – was trailblazing. Restaurants embraced the thrill of outdoor dining. Fitness facilities repurposed any outdoor space they could find to host workouts. Hair and nail salons pampered their clients in the open air. Al fresco, everywhere.

City officials at all levels were deeply engaged from the outset, but when it came to the mechanics of making it happen, Piombo’s style – how, not if, now, not when – prevailed. Mill Valley and all of Marin County were kept afloat by Piombo’s work.

Recent Mill Valley winners have also included Hunter Moore, the CEO of The Redwoods, as well as the “The Three Jims,” The Outdoor Art Club, All Wrapped Up and Paula Reynolds.