A recent Letter to the Editor summarized, albeit in a fantastical round about fashion, that the Rabbit Rabbit store closing and its move to Calistoga was somehow tied to the “Silent Majority’s” displeasure in preventing the Adams Street property being developed into a luxury hotel.
The author states: “Our merchant base is starving for the upscale shoppers that a luxe hotel will bring.” That “This is more than just losing a retail store -- we are losing a vital part of the balance of our store mix.” Two things come to mind. One, a luxe hotel just opened in St Helena six months ago that the City of St Helena bent over backwards to get it open and sold its soul to the devil so it can raise TOT money (without even thinking about its parking situation impact on the nearby residents, BTW).
How much money do you think Hotel Alcobas guests dropped at Rabbit Rabbit? Probably not much since luxe hotel guests don’t buy $4 trinkets. And two, we have long lost the vital balance of local serving merchants in St. Helena about 15 years ago. And it wasn’t due to lack of tourism, it was due to avaricious landlords trying to rent their spaces – long paid off spaces – for the same cost it would be to rent property at the corner of California and Sansome Streets.
The only benefit a luxe hotel tourist brings to Main Street businesses is to the same type of businesses that supplanted our local serving stores in the first place – real estate offices, high-end jewelry stores, and art galleries, all of which we hardly need another one of. Maybe the cost of doing business with St. Helena landlords is the reason it seems half the storefronts are empty? Likely. I do not know if the lease ran out and the rent for Rabbit Rabbit was going to rise -- which prompted her to move to cheaper Calistoga – I would wager that it was a factor.
I am very sad we lost yet another local serving store that my family and I have shopped in the 16 years we have lived here.
And I have a warning to the proprietress who is moving her shop up to Calistoga and its dreams of Lincoln Avenue packed with luxe hotel tourist with fistfuls of spending dollars in their manicured fingers. Don’t get your hopes up too high.
I had those same visions when I was fed the kool-aid about Solage opening in Calistoga way back when. I founded the Wine Garage on Foothill Boulevard. The local merchants were all in a tizzy with the news of a luxe resort soon to open and then right after that a new Four Seasons was to open on Silverado Trail and right after that another resort was to open south of town on Foothill. That was 10 years ago and two of the three are still guest free. When Solage did open, someone brought to my attention that there was a full page article written about the Wine Garage on the back inside cover of the Solage in-room magazine. “Our recommended local wine merchant.” This was un-solicited mind you. In every single room for 6 months. We did not see a bump in business. The sad fact is that Napa Valley has priced itself out of the market.
You pay $800 to $1,500 per room, go to dinner for $250 to $350, visit wineries with tasting fees of $50 to $150 … there just isn’t any money left over for $4 trinkets or $25 bottles of wine. No one is walking away from tasting rooms with cases anymore.
What the “majority” of St. Helenans want for this town – and they are quickly becoming rather vocal – is some leadership that actually represents them. A government that doesn’t mismanage every single critical component – water, wastewater, flood control, traffic, finance, affordable housing, fire protection, and its many, many assets it controls. A luxury hotel is going to create more traffic, more pressure on its water and sewer, more local serving businesses going under, more pressure on housing, fire, and police.
Has anyone even thought about using this property for affordable housing for the St. Helena citizens who work at the wineries, the restaurants, and hotels? The people who teach our children, clean our houses, mow our lawns, fight our fires, arrest drunken drivers, or work at -- or own -- Rabbit Rabbit? Really?