Craig Smith

Craig Smith is the executive director of the Downtown Napa Association.

J.L. Sousa/Register

Jill Brandt, who owns the Napa General Store with her husband Jim, describes their business as a “lifestyle store and community gathering place” that includes a restaurant and wine shop with a tasting bar.

“It’s a social place for both casual and serious discussions,” she added. The store has been serving the local community for more than 15 years.

Brandt took a course at Alumni Resources in San Francisco, where she had to write a business plan for one assignment.

The teacher recognized that nothing like Brandt described existed in Napa, and knew just the place for it. She introduced Brandt to Harry Price, who was developing the old Napa Mill.

Price liked Brandt’s idea and encouraged her to open a shop. Brandt was interested, and wanted to lease a couple hundred square feet.

In the end, Price encouraged her to take several thousand square feet, from the front of the building to the river. Brandt knew that, if she was going to do this, she needed Jim’s help. Fortunately, he was completely on board.

Price figured the store would be a tourist destination. Brandt disagreed. “No,” Jill said, “this is where locals will come.”

They’ve not only come, they’ve embraced the store as their own. Brandt said many regulars bring their family and friends in as a part of the “Napa tour.” It’s a point of pride for the Brandts as locals helped them through early tough times.

Brandt brings in wares from many different artists. The question she asks herself when choosing what to carry is “How do you live Napa?”

She doesn’t look for ‘things’ as much as she looks for stories, artists with interesting paths who create clothes, kitchenware, art, and more, that say something about their lives. “This place allows people to take an authentic piece of Napa home,” she said.

“Jill doesn’t just ‘buy merchandise,’” said General Manager Ali Shull, who has been with the Napa General Store for four years. “She curates the entire space.”

Brandt often works with the artists to develop her own ideas, and constantly changes the mix.

“If I didn’t change it up all the time, I’d go crazy, and people would stop coming.”

Jim Brandt runs the wine shop, featuring local, small production, artisanal wines, almost all of which are from Napa. The stories behind the wines are as interesting as the wines themselves.

The Napa General Store restaurant is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. serving breakfast, lunch and week-end brunch. The store and wine shop are open until 6 p.m.

Thank you for supporting downtown businesses this year. We hope your holidays are the best, and look forward to seeing you in 2017. Happy New Year to you all. See you downtown!

Craig Smith is the executive director of the Downtown Napa Association. Reach him at 257-0322 or