Now that many (but not all) of the tourists have returned home for the holidays, life in the Napa Valley is a little bit calmer, traffic is lighter, and you tend to meet more locals when you venture out to stores and restaurants. Such has definitely been the case for us, especially when we went to downtown Napa recently to explore and do some Christmas shopping.
First let me explain a little bit about the traffic flow in Napa. From highway 29, the First Street exit actually directs you to Second Street, which flows one way into the downtown area. Once there, First Street takes you back out of town, past some spectacular Victorians. Navigating the downtown area takes a little bit of practice on these one-way streets, but it is also small enough that you can park and walk to most of the shops and restaurants. That’s what we usually do. But this time, we parked near the area where the retail ends on First Street, at the western edge of downtown, and started visiting the establishments we had only seen from our car windows before. What we found was pretty amazing.
The first store we visited was a gorgeous gift shop named “West End Napa,” which opened in July of this year. The boutique features a beautiful array of gift and furniture items, including pillows, candles, leather chairs, pewter, glassware, serving pieces, books, artwork, and other objets d’art. The two proprietresses, Elizabeth Cameron and Kathleen Pfaff, have taken great care to stock the store with contemporary pieces that reflect the style of the Napa Valley, and in most cases are produced by local artisans. During our first visit, Laurie and I met Elizabeth, and had the most pleasant half-hour chat imaginable. I met Kathleen on a subsequent visit. During these visits we learned how the store came into being, about their philosophy on sourcing items, and about the backgrounds of the two owners. Without sharing all that info here, suffice to say these two are passionate not only about their store, but about Napa in general. And they are looking to bring more notoriety, and business, to this oft-neglected “west end” of Napa.
To that (west) end, they went out and talked to their neighboring retailers in the surrounding blocks and got many of them (eleven in total) to agree to be part of a loosely-formed association which works together to bring business in. They created “West End Wednesdays,” where each week the eleven stores welcome locals and visitors with in-store specials, discounts, and other promotions in order to boost mid-week business. With the exception of the Avia Hotel (which is in the process of being taken over by the Hyatt chain), all the participating stores are local and independently-owned.
While Elizabeth could have focused her efforts on selling us something from her own shop, she instead encouraged us to visit a couple of the other stores in the association. Just next door to her place is the Napa Valley Toffee Company, owned by Mike and Jeanette Beatty. The shop makes delicious home-made toffee, and also pours tastings of small boutique wines which it pairs with chocolates from Koller Chocolates in Yountville. They also have a coffee bar, which pulls in many residents from the Avia Hotel two doors down. Like Elizabeth and Kathleen, Jeanette and Mike are also following a dream, inspired by their love of chocolate and their belief that Napa is a town on the upswing.
Just across the street from West End Napa and the Napa Valley Toffee Company is the Napa Valley Kitchen Gallery, owned by another highly-personable Napa resident, Lynn Campagna. Lynn recently moved to this new location from her old spot on Lincoln Avenue, and the space is magnificent. The store stocks an amazing selection of cookware, and displays the items such that you can actually see them. (I am sorry, but Sur La Table is just way too cluttered!) Plus, Lynn is extremely familiar with every item in the place, and can help you understand the benefits of one selection over another very quickly. It came as no surprise to me to learn that many of the best-known Napa chefs shop in this store for their knives and other cooking equipment. Lynn chatted with us about the West End group that Elizabeth and Kathleen started, and how great it has been to drive business to the area. Besides the three shops and the hotel which I have already mentioned, the other members of the group are the Sala Salon, Gordon Huether Gallery, John Anthony Tasting Lounge, Lotus Salon & Spa, Napa Valley Toy Company, Eiko’s Restaurant, and Quent Cordair Fine Art.
Next time you are headed out of downtown Napa on First Street, take 30 minutes to park the car and wander the west end of Napa to see what many people pass right by. You will meet some really interesting and heartwarming people, and you’ll get a good sense of why so many people love living in this amazing town.