Downtown Napa businesses get creative to stay open amid construction

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Downtown Napa has been experiencing growing pains for more than a decade. Construction in one form or another has been ongoing, including the recent redirection of two main streets, current construction of the 183-room Archer Hotel, and continued clean-up from the 6.9 magnitude earthquake in 2014.

Construction of the hotel began last year and is expected to be completed in spring 2017.

In 2014, before the August earthquake, the city of Napa converted First and Second streets to 2-way thoroughfares. The project took five months and the work included digging trenches for electrical work which included shutdowns of water and PG&E, removing traffic signals, and replacing sidewalks.

“Years ago there was the closure of Franklin Avenue, then there was the repaving of the sidewalks, streetlight repair, and so on. In 14 years there have been more than 40 events of closures,” said Molly Silcox who owns Antiques on Second.

Silcox said her business has been affected by the ongoing work, and also by the closure of the Post Office across the street due to the earthquake, with a reduction in foot traffic. But persistence and getting creative helps.

“After the earthquake we figured it out. Everything was terrifying but we still got people here. To get through it again and again and again, it’s just a matter of thinking outside the box. Extend your hours. Get in early to not miss one person coming by,” she said.

Business owners near the construction site of the hotel, on First Street, are concerned about the lack of foot traffic and parking, yet are looking forward to the completed project. The hotel will have more than 40 shops and eateries, including a rooftop bar.

Jessica Mosher is a co-owner of Yarns on First Street, located across from the Archer construction. Foot traffic is way down, she said, and inside the shop, Mosher endures the construction noise, which is fairly constant.

“On a personal level it’s kind of depressing and worrisome. The construction is tiresome,” she said. “People see the scaffolding and they don’t come up from Main Street like they used to. It’s moving in the right direction, it’s just really hard.”

Parking is also a problem.

“We hear it constantly that there’s no parking downtown,” Mosher said.

Both Mosher and Silcox suggested that the city could go a long way towards helping keep businesses informed of what construction, closure, or other work is scheduled.

“The local community is supportive, but the city could do better as far as support,” Mosher said.

Jaina French, community outreach coordinator with the city of Napa, said the city is in the process of beefing up their outreach to businesses with social media, direct outreach, updating their website, and Nixle phone notifications, for those who subscribe to the free service.

“Broad-reaching communication is key, like offering alternatives for driving during construction,” she said.

Currently, updated road closure information and other construction work can be found on the city’s website homepage, Facebook page, and Twitter account.

French also said a new parking lot is being paved at Soscol Avenue and West Street, and other parking for downtown is being planned.

Also located on First Street, The Mustard Seed has been hit with a double whammy. The women’s clothing shop is also directly across the street from the construction site for the hotel. It is also right next door to the Historical Society which still has scaffolding around it from damage in the earthquake.

“It’s ongoing and seems like it’s always something,” said Susan Fonseca, sales clerk at the store. “Napa has gone through a huge change over the last 25 years. It’s gone from a sleepy farm town to a tourist destination, and we need to keep up with the change. Twenty-five years ago you couldn’t find Downtown Napa.”

Barbara Wiggins, The Mustard Seed’s long-time owner, is optimistic. She said she anticipated the hotel construction and was prepared for it. To survive the disruptions in foot traffic, she turned the back door to the store, which empties into a small alley, into a VIP entrance with signs, and flowering vines on the scaffolding. Such measures have helped mitigate the lack of foot traffic, she said.

Wiggins also noted the construction crews try to work around open business hours, doing the really noisy things early or late in the day, and the city also tries to schedule work to take place at dates and times with the least disruption to businesses.

As for the disruption of the street work, “everybody thought it would be a disaster when the streets changed direction but it didn’t turn out that way. It turned out better,” said Wiggins, who had witnessed car accidents with tourists not accustomed to the one-way streets.

All of this has affected her business somewhat, however, “I’m embracing the construction. I can do this because it will be fabulous when the 183-room hotel opens right across the street,” she said. “It is what it is and is going to be terrific when it’s done.”

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