New life emerges at The Barlow shopping district in Sebastopol after February flood

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A surprising silver lining has emerged as The Barlow approaches the five-month mark since winter floods deluged the Sebastopol shopping district and displaced dozens of tenants in the 12-acre marketplace.

Businesses are now clamoring to get in.

Several new tenants — including Red Bird Bakery, Golden State Cider and a new pizza restaurant from the owners of Petaluma-based Acre Coffee — all have made arrangements to lease spaces vacated after the flood.

In June, high-profile craft beer maker Seismic Brewing Co. opened at the outdoor marketplace, bringing the total number of breweries in the artisan complex to three.

“There was an urgency for us to get in before it was too late,” said Steve DeCosse, owner of Acre Coffee and the forthcoming Acre Pizza, which plans to co-occupy a 3,500-square-foot location formerly used by Village Bakery.

DeCosse said The Barlow had been “on his radar” for years but never quite panned out. After the floods, the founder of Acre Coffee, which operates five cafes throughout the county, planned to lease a smaller space for his pizza eatery but “couldn’t pass up” the opportunity to take on the larger space once occupied by Village Bakery.

Bakery owners Patrick Lum and Teresa Gentile recently gave up their Barlow kitchen to focus on a new Montgomery Village location opening in August.

“There’s a demand for a retail space with a sense of community,” said DeCosse of The Barlow’s mixed-use, indoor-outdoor marketplace feel, enhanced by its location near cinemas, a walking trail and downtown Sebastopol. “There isn’t a place in Sonoma County with this walkable energy.”

Acre Pizza plans to co-habit the building with Red Bird Bakery. The Cotati-based bakery will use the existing production kitchen for its growing wholesale business. Owners Linda and Isaac Cermak recently moved their operation from Santa Rosa, but said they have already outgrown it.

“As it turns out, our Cotati shop just isn’t enough space to comfortably produce what we need to,” said Linda Cermak.

Red Bird will produce pizza dough for Acre Pizza, and the pizzeria will sell Red Bird’s bread.

“The Barlow is a vital and vibrant part of our town,” said Linda Collins, executive director of the Sebastopol Chamber of Commerce.

“A lot of people got their feet wet, literally, to make sure it succeeded and made it to the next step. It really resonates with the community because you can walk from shop to shop,” said Collins.

The new leases come just months after 24 shops and restaurants were damaged in the floods and six, including high-profile Zazu Restaurant + Farm left the complex entirely. Nine businesses recently filed suit against Barlow owner Barney Aldridge for negligence and breach of contract, alleging lack of response during flooding that some businesses say took them by surprise.

Aldridge said he’s optimistic about the future of The Barlow as it moves forward.

“The existing tenants are being joined by others as passionate as they are,” he said, adding that new events and new tenants are bringing a new vigor to the 7-year-old development.

Barney said The Barlow currently has 36 occupants. Six businesses left after the flooding, he said.

“Barney’s gotten a bad rap,” said Sushi Kosho owner Jake Rand, an original tenant who is preparing to reopen his remodeled restaurant following a GoFundMe campaign to help his business recover from the flood.

After his restaurant was deemed a total loss, Rand sold his house and crowdfunded more than $15,000 toward the rebuild, which ultimately cost more than $250,000. Rand did not have flood insurance, and the cost was divided between himself and Aldridge, he said.

On Thursday, Rand hosted a preview party for donors. He plans to reopen his remodeled space to the public in coming weeks.

“My heart goes out to everyone who didn’t reopen, but I think that anyone who signed a lease got everything they wanted at The Barlow,” Rand said. “I think anyone who wanted to reopen could have.”

He viewed the loss as an opportunity. “We got to start over,” Rand said.

After the debris removal and cleanup, he was able to completely customize the space he inherited from the previous tenant, eliminating a large pizza oven, moving oddly placed doorways, adding a sake bar, and repainting and retiling the interior.

“It’s like a modern Japanese farmhouse now,” he said, “not a pizzeria.”

Kosho and the under-construction Red Bird and Acre Pizza are part of a bustling section of The Barlow that offers a variety of restaurants, including the reopened Barrio Fresca Cocina Mexicana, The Nectary, The Farmer’s Wife, and Two Dog Night Creamery. The restaurants provide food for patrons of Barlow breweries, creating a symbiotic relationship between tenants.

Concerts and events are slated throughout the summer, and people are coming back, though Rand said there’s still some confusion among consumers about the status of The Barlow.

“We worked really hard and sacrificed a lot to get here, but I think The Barlow is more positive and alive than at any other time,” Rand said.

You can reach Press Democrat Dining Editor Heather Irwin at 707-526-8544 or heather.irwin@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @biteclubeats.

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