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2010 saw 13 new venues; Oxbow market sees surgeClick for list of restaurant openings in downtown Napa since late 2009

NAPA -- Downtown Napa has seen 13 restaurant openings since December 2009.

This year, 2010, was a "banner year" for restaurant openings, which dominated downtown retail real estate, but openings for 2011 likely will be at a slower pace, according to Coldwell Banker Commercial Brokers of the Valley agent Cathy D'Angelo Holmes, who has been involved with several of those lease deals.

"If we have four or five open in 2011, I think we will be doing great," she said. "In 2010 it was all about openings planned in 2009."

At this point, two restaurants set to open next year are Eiko's in Altamura Enterprises' Napa Town Center and an unnamed "high-profile" restaurant in the largest restaurant space at Oxbow Public Market.

The area now has 60 restaurants and 21 tasting rooms, according to Craig Smith, executive director of the Napa Downtown Association. Part of the increase is thanks to a move by the Legislature two years ago to allow more alcoholic beverage licenses than would be allowed a 75,000-resident city because of 3 million to 4 million tourists who visit the valley annually.

New restaurants run the gamut from everyday-priced street food at the vintner-grower Ceja family's Bistro Sabor to high-end cuisine at Masaharu Morimoto's sixth restaurant, Morimoto Napa, at The Riverfront.

Celebrity chef Tyler Florence's Rotisserie & Wine restaurant and adjoining store are set to open by early December at The Riverfront, according to a spokeswoman.

"You really have to be on your game to compete," Mr. Smith said.

It's been an active year for restaurant business, too. Carpe Diem wine bar opened in June, and business has been increasing since, including in the usually slower fall months after the winegrape harvest, according to owner Stephanie Kendall.

"Who would have thought that in mid-November there would be lines out the door?" she asked.

On the eastern edge of the downtown area, retailers, wine-tasting venues and restaurants in the 40,000-square-foot Oxbow Public Market have experienced a significant increase in revenue and customer traffic in the past 12 months, according to founder and Chief Executive Officer Steve Carlin.

"It's partly due to the fact that we're full for the first time," he said. "There is thriving lunch and dinner business. The farmer's market has been operating in the parking lot this year. There's more notoriety for the market and the tenants."

The market opened nearly three years ago, just as the recession was beginning, and there was a slow start in landing tenants, according to market spokesman Tom Fuller. But now the main hall is fully leased with 23 tenants.

Oxbow Wine & Cheese Merchants recently relocated to the main hall from the restaurant space, and an undisclosed "high-profile chef" is said to be about to sign a lease for that space, Mr. Fuller said.

Also adding to the profile of Oxbow Public Market is the May opening of C Casa, "An Innovative Taqueria" venture by Tulocay & Co. founder Catherine Bergen. C Casa was among 29 new Bay Area restaurants to earn the 2011 Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand designation for under-$40 full meals.

"I chose Oxbow because it will be the place for the local people to hang out," Ms. Bergen said. "Now the market hall is abuzz."

Most public markets commonly are opened in downtown business hubs or historical areas of a city with mostly daytime customer activity, and that's why the shops of Oxbow and the San Francisco Ferry Building Marketplace closed between 6 and 7 p.m., according to Mr. Carlin, also former project manager for the Marketplace.

"We don't have that kind of density in Napa," Mr. Carlin said. "We've had to be creative in supporting the local community."

That innovation has come in the form of a number of local-serving attractions, which have led Oxbow management earlier this month to extend hall hours to 9 p.m.

The vision of farmers produce stalls around the outside of the market hall in the original vision of Oxbow has morphed with feedback from local agricultural producers into a hosted farmers market in the parking lot. A locals' night on Tuesdays has pushed hours later, as has live music and dancing on Friday evenings. And "First Fridays," started by Dim Sum Charlie's in November, is a monthly gathering of food truck vendors in the Oxbow parking lot.

To complement the surge in openings of restaurants and wine-tasting venues, the downtown area needs to attract well-known national retailers, according to Strong & Haden Commercial Real Estate agent Matt Connolly, who is part of the marketing team for a number of vacant spaces in Napa Town Center.

"There has been a little resistance because of the overall state of the retail market and availability of financing in some cases," he said.

The city of Napa found in a survey that a number of residents leave the city for clothing, athletic wear, home furnishings and electronics and that the downtown area needs a critical mass of "soft goods" stores, according to Jennifer LaLiberte, acting economic development division manager.

"We're seeing a lot of retailer interest in downtown," she said. "It's the first time they've considered Napa more seriously as a place to recommend opening a store."

New downtown retailers include high-end cookware vendor Napa Valley Kitchen Gallery, moving from Lincoln Avenue to Napa Square, and a women's clothing store by Helen Lyall in The Riverfront. Gallery owner Lynn Campagna plans to have an olive oil bar and sell Riedel stemware.

A number of vacant storefronts on First Street present opportunities for co-locating national retailers who want to open next to each other to attract a pool of the right customers, according to Ms. LaLiberte. Regional and "mom-and-pop" retailers can be filled in around them.

Things needed to make that happen will be renovation or structural upgrades to some of the First Street spaces. Permits for that work could get fast-tracked on a case-by-case basis to bring needed retailers in, Ms. LaLiberte said.

Also to help with attracting retailers downtown is a fix to the somewhat confusing arrangement of one-way streets, including the outward direction of First Street toward Highway 29, according to Mr. Connolly. A forthcoming traffic study and plan in conjunction with the Downtown Specific Plan is expected in 2011.

Restaurant openings in downtown Napa since late 2009December 2009

Mini Mango Thai Bistro

Norman Rose Tavern

January 2010

Grace's Table

February

Oenotri

April

Bistro Sabor

May

C Casa - An Innovative Taqueria

June

Carpe Diem

July

Morimoto Napa

Bui Bistro

August

Fish Story

Graham's Take-Away Foods

October

Ca' Momi Enoteca & Pizzeria

December

Tyler Florence's Rotisserie & Wine

Coming in 2011

Eiko's, at Napa Town Center

Unnamed "high-profile chef," at Oxbow Public Market

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