A Case for Lulu and Lush in Napa
Many rumors have swirled about which shops might rent space in the newly revived downtown Napa...whispers of an Apple Store, a Lulu Lemon, even an Anthropologie! Now one of these rumors is true. A "small" Lulu Lemon will open on First Street this month. This is pretty exciting, but not for the obvious reason that we no longer have to drive an hour away to get our leggings fix (or shop online, which is way less satisfying but often necessary). What's truly wonderful about this news, is that a high end, big name "chain" store has decided to follow in the footsteps of Tommy Bahama and Lush to bet on the future of Napa. This is exciting, but why it took these guys so long, is still a puzzle to me!
It has been clear to most locals for a while, that tourists are coming back to Napa...no longer racing past us for Yountville, St Helena, or Calistoga, but actually entering "Downtown Napa" in the GPS. I believe what initially enticed them to Napa are some great Napa eats. Oxbow Market has become ground zero for the launch of a perfect day of wine tasting in the valley. Word is out that you can't go to Napa without tasting a Model Bakery muffin or having a cappuccino at Ritual. Some unique tasting rooms (Riverhouse) and big-name restaurants (Morimoto, Charlie Palmer) are attracting the high-end tourists.
A burgeoning nightlife (Cadet, Napkins, and Eiko's) are attracting the younger crowd (singles and bachelorette parties). We even have a nascent cocktail scene with Miminashi and soon Mule, a cocktail lounge, filling a void. What has been missing, until very recently, is the shopping! Inconceivable!
Less than a year ago, I observed forlorn groups of visitors, hand-clasped newlyweds, and giggling girl squads, walking a rather deserted downtown Napa, desperately looking for a cute boutique to drop their cash. At that time, their only choice was the Beaded Nomad, a pretty awful baroque art gallery, and Kohl's department store. Hallelujah- that era is behind us! The Beaded Nomad has a "Retirement Sale" going on (some people are nostalgic and sad about this but I say, "bah-bye"), and the art store has been converted into a hipster tasting room! Kohl's is still there and seems to be staying. To be honest, I have never hated Kohl's and have had some fashion emergencies solved there! I appreciate that they were here when everybody else passed over (of course if Anthropologie wanted that space, that would be ok with me!) Kohl's could certainly use a little re-design since, at this point, the newly decorated Target at Bel Aire Plaza is more attractive than the downtown Kohls!
What changed? While most First Street storefronts remained empty and abandoned, a few small but trendy and affordable boutiques opened their doors and dug in their heels, barely surviving on the sparse dollars of the few visitors who came through Napa. Miyamo, Wunder, Boho Lifestyle, and The Roost all have been contributors to the rebirth of Napa downtown, and we owe them a great debt. More seem to be opening each month, including Shoppe Twelve, a "pop up" (with staying power) on the riverfront- they have some really cute stuff- Mecox (a furniture and decor store) and Kalifornia Jean Bar!
These days, especially on the weekend, you can see the throngs of happy tourists, taking a break from wine tasting, digging deep into their wallets, and shopping! It almost happened overnight, and there seems to be more to come. With the announcement of Lulu Lemon, I am hopeful this will encourage other famous brands to sign their names on a downtown Napa lease. We really need a vibrant downtown and shopping is a part of that. Perhaps we will eventually even get an Apple Store or an Anthropologie...but for now let's be sure to support our local independent shops AND these larger stores. We need to keep that happy mix, and we locals are going to have to do our own part to keep it alive. Everyone, do your civic duty and...shop!