By Kelley Atherton

After 20 years in the business, Katie Berkowitz has hung up her hat as the welcome service lady.

Berkowitz recently retired from the business she and her husband Bob started in 1988the Del Norte Welcome Service. Luckily for the business, she found a replacement.

It's not that she grew tired of her job or that it's been tedious over the years tracking down new residents, she said, but andquot;20 years is long enough.andquot;

The welcome service is free. Berkowitz gave new residents information about what things to do in Del Norte and an introduction to local businesses, plus coupons.

Berkowitz was planning on closing up shop at the end of the month because she couldn't find a successor.

andquot;I have one hostess, but I wanted someone to take my half off so I didn't have to knock on doors anymore,andquot; she said.

Once word spread that she wanted to retire, a lead came about another possible hostess. Berkowitz tested her out with clients and found her to be a suitable replacement.

andquot;She's caught on quite well,andquot; Berkowitz said. andquot;She's already made a few appointments.andquot;

Berkowitz didn't think one person could do all the visitsthere needed to be a second hostess for the welcome service to continue.

andquot;I was mourning having to close it,andquot; Berkowitz said. andquot;It's valuable to recipients and businesses. It gives exposure to businesses and opens the door for inquiries.andquot;

Two hostesses can visit about 30 families new to the area every month. Berkowitz said the Welcome Service has made almost 10,000 visits over 20 years. However, the number of new families has slowed since an initial rush in the late 1980s.

When word spread in 1988 about the opening of Pelican Bay State Prison, which now employs more than 1,500 people, she knew a lot of newcomers were on the way to Del Norte County. She figured a welcome service was needed to help them get acquainted.

andquot;For this town, (a welcome service) is very important,andquot; Berkowitz said. Originally those people were not made to feel welcome because they were strangers. So, we thought it was important to have a person out there to say 'you are welcome.'andquot;

Over the years, she's noticed that new residents are employed in many fields. Del Norte also gets its fair share of retirees moving here, she said.

But over time the county's population plateaued and there aren't as many people moving here now.

andquot;There were 190 families in the first several months (in 1988), Berkowitz said. andquot;Then it tapered off.andquot;

The welcome service weathered the slow times. With a home-based business there's low overhead and entrepreneurs can afford to take some risks. Plus, Berkowitz said it's a fun job.

andquot;It's interesting, she said, andquot;You meet so many different people.andquot;

Berkowitz plans to continue volunteering around Crescent City like she has already been doing, but she wants to travel with her husband andquot;without feeling guilty.andquot; Retirement will also free up her evenings to garden.

The services are becoming less common and younger people aren't always familiar with the idea of someone knocking on their door to say, andquot;Welcome.andquot;

She fears the concept might become andquot;a dinosaur real soon,andquot; even though she believes it's still needed in an isolated rural community.

Some people, she said, andquot;are pleasantly surprised we have such a thing here. They remember it from the olden days.andquot;