This history, written by Michael Phillips, was first published June, 2002 on his personal website at The WELL. (Captured from Internet Archive: Wayback Machine)

The Briarpatch was a network of businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area founded by Michael Phillips in 1974. Over 1,000 businesses were members in its first ten years.

Briars believe in helping each other, sharing business know how and being open with financial records.

Briarpatch History

The Briarpatch was founded in June of 1974 a few weeks after Michael Phillips opened an office on San Francisco’s Pier 40 for Wednesday free business consulting. Within two weeks, such a large number of hippies was coming to the office for advice on new and existing businesses that he asked five friends to join him in coping with the explosion of incipient businesses. The friends were:

  • Richard Raymond, who was already using the names Briar and Briarpatch; founder of the Portola Institute.
  • Elliot Buchdrucker, CPA
  • Werner Hebenstreit, Insurance Broker and holocaust survivor
  • Tom Silk, non-profit lawyer
  • Andy (Bahauddin) Alpine, first Briarpatch coordinator and founder of Common Ground quarterly

Everyone agreed to contribute to Andy’s first six months’ expenses to help the Briarpatch businesses until there were sufficient funds to cover his living costs. That took less than six months and $600.

The coordinators from 1974 to 1994 were:

  • Andy (Bahauddin) Alpine
  • Charles Albert (Shali) Parsons
  • Claude Whitmyer

In the first three years, the Briarpatch published an irregular color quarterly, with Annie Styron as editor and Tom Hargadon as publisher. The complete collection [of the first 8 issues, ed.] was published in a black & white book: The Briarpatch Book, Experiences in Right Livelihood and Simple Living from the Briarpatch Community, 1978, New Glide/Reed, ISBN 0-912078-60-X.

Other books to come out of the Briarpatch were: Honest Business — Phillips & Rasberry; Marketing Without Advertising — Phillips & Rasberry, and Running a One-Person Business — Whitmyer, Rasberry & Phillips

Briarpatch businesses asked for consultations on occasion; all visits were to the business premises on Wednesdays. The consultants included: Phillips, all the coordinators, Roger Pritchard (the longest and most consistent member), Sara Alexander, Paul Terry and Salli Rasberry.

From 1981 until 1986 a business school was affiliated with the Briarpatch. The Noren Institute (“Hands-on Business Learning”) included mostly Briarpatch members as students and teachers. Classes were taught by taking students in a van to study exemplar Briarpatch businesses. Noren had approximately 400 students over its five-year life. Marketing Without Advertising and Running a One Person Business were among the classes offered by Noren. The classes were the source material for two books with the same titles.

The Briarpatch never successfully grew anywhere outside the Bay Area, although efforts were made in Kyoto, Tokyo, Stockholm, Western England, Paris, Lyon, and Seattle. A structure similar to the Briarpatch was developed with a government template in Sweden, copied in Germany and France and re-transmitted to the Mid-West of the U.S. by the German Marshall Plan Fund using the name Small Business Marketing Networks.

Well known businesses that were in the Briarpatch:

  • Harvey Milk‘s camera shop
  • Kaisek Wong‘s design business
  • the original store that created The Body Shop
  • Palo Alto Computer Learning Center where Steve Jobs met Steve Wozniak
  • Nolo Press
  • Greens Restaurant
  • Tassajara Bakery
  • Berkeley’s Buttercup Bakery (the first commercial business to serve the bread and food which was later credited to Alice Waters as “California Cusine”),
  • Margo St. JamesCoyote (the prostitutes union)
  • Fort Mason, the first urban National Park facility (founded by Ann Howell)