Main Street was bustling last week as I ran to get my hair cut and pick up last-minute gift cards. I was pleased to see a lot of people out and about strolling and shopping and noted to myself that many of them were locals. Although that is completely normal, many in town believe it not to be true. Many of our merchants will tell you their clientele is over 60 percent locals and it’s their local customers that keep them in business, especially during the slow season. The reality is, I shop on Main Street, and so do you.
It reminded me of a conversation I recently had with a group of friends. The topic turned to Main Street stores. “There is nothing for locals on Main Street” and “I never shop on Main Street” was the consensus in the room. However, when probed, I found almost all had recently shopped at Steves, many had recently shopped at Sportago, Daisy, Gathered or Rabbit Rabbit. And this wasn’t for Christmas gifts; it was for birthday presents, hiking gear and a new outfit for a party.
Furthermore, everyone had recently been to Model Bakery, Cook or Cook Tavern, Archetype, Sogni di Dolci and/or Market. Vintage Home was a favorite of one of the women and Pearl and Amelia Claire another. The women all admitted that they loved the new store, Allison in Wine County. All of the women used stylists at salons on Main Street and many were loyal to Heaven and Earth. Everyone had been to the Cameo in the last few months. So why do they think they don’t shop on Main Street?
“There’s nothing for locals on Main Street” has been said and repeated constantly over the years to the point where many have come to believe is true. And we have perpetuated it by pleading with locals to “Shop Local” and “Shop Small” — like they don’t already.
No one shops at every store in a mall, so why do we believe that every store on Main Street needs to appeal to each of us? The intent is to have a mix, have something for everyone regardless of budget and to complement each other. Too much of anything fatigues shoppers whether they are local or visitor. While some may continue to believe that we have too many galleries and jewelry stores, they are in business because someone is shopping there. And it isn’t all visitors.
When I asked what people want on Main Street, nothing really came to mind, other than the suggestion of a noodle shop – which I interpret to mean another family-friendly restaurant, which is a good idea. They agreed that buying essentials at Target 25 minutes away in Napa is better than having a Target in St. Helena and acknowledge that most of those Target essentials can be found here in St. Helena at Central Valley, Vasconi’s, Smith’s and Sunshine.
Children’s shoes has been mentioned. However, shoes are an item that is hard for a small retailer to stock in these days of Zappos and Amazon. People can get exactly the color and size they want delivered to their door within a day so keeping a variety of colors and sizes of shoes in stock in a small store, with limited storage, waiting for that one local who fits into a size 6.5 is hard to do. We must keep in mind that businesses have to be sustainable and profitable to stay in business and unfortunately, children’s shoes is not a viable business on Main Street.
Last year, when the construction was most brutal, I wrote a column listing everyday items you can get on Main Street at everyday prices. This was when the Star still allowed for comments online. The reaction to the article was shocking. “Who’s drinking her Kool-Aid?” was one of nicer comments. Obviously, I hit a nerve into a strongly held belief by this person that there is absolutely nothing for her on Main Street. Maybe she does not shop downtown, it’s possible. But she doesn’t know what she is missing.
We are going to work harder in 2017 to change the mindset and thank you for continuing to shop on Main Street as you always have, for being customers who appreciate quality goods, unique offerings, small businesses run by your neighbors and the instant gratification of taking something home that day instead of waiting for the Amazon delivery. We have a lot to offer locals.
For those who don’t think there is anything for them, I invite you back to Main Street to explore. Don’t be surprised to see me and your neighbors there. But I won’t be serving Kool-Aid; I’ll be tasting at Orin Swift. Join me!