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Citing optimism in Napa County’s economy, a number of Napa Valley business owners are investing in their own futures by upgrading, expanding and opening new shops.

At Shackford’s Kitchen Store in downtown Napa, co-owner Patrick Merkley invested $500,000 into a new commercial kitchen.

“I know [the kitchen] will support itself. I’ve lived through multiple recessions and bad economies. I’ve been through multiple downtowns. I know how to manage.”

He said even though tourism is “booming,” he doesn’t rely on visitors alone. “We get 60 percent of our business from locals (and) 20 to 25 percent of our business from chefs. The rest are tourists.”

Sprawled out in the back of his store is another sign of Merkley’s confidence in the economy. He recently bought a huge commercial prep table once used at Anette’s Chocolates to use in his new kitchen.

The table became available when the chocolatiers remodeled their downtown shop.

“Rumor is,” Merkley said, “when you place hot items on the table and the surface heats up, you can smell chocolate.”

It is the fresh baked goods you smell when you walk into Monday Bakery, on Second Street in downtown Napa. The bakery opened in January and has been a hit since day one, said said Monday Bakery owner Sally Latimer. “Downtown Napa has great foot traffic,” she said.

Latimer said the business climate is good in Napa.

“As a food artisan, we always put love and thought into the food we’re making,” she said. “Our customers appreciate it.” And they show their appreciation by coming back again and again.

Business has also been good at Rove Boutique on Lincoln Avenue in Calistoga. So good that the owners, sisters Sandra and Jessica Maas, leased the shop next door to open a companion store, one specializing in women’s clothing and gifts.

Even though Lincoln Avenue has a number of vacant storefronts, the businesswomen are optimistic about Calistoga’s economic future. Both said they would not open a new store if they did not feel the economy looked bright.

“We are not only tourist driven; we also have strong local support,” Jessica said. “The economy’s good.”

“We haven’t nailed down the name of the store yet,” or an opening date, said Sandra.

Their uncertainty is easy to understand. A peek inside showed construction was well underway in their new shop, yet a lot of work remained. “We’re very hands on,” said Sandra. “We do most of the construction ourselves to save money.”

Napa Mayor Jill Techel said Napa Valley’s economic growth is on strong footing.

“We have a lot of diversity in our economy,” she said, adding that the Napa Valley is a hub of health care and wine industry businesses, manufacturing, retail and trade, hospitality, restaurants and artisans.

Of course, she said, officials have to keep a close eye on road projects, flood projects and other community development issues.

Development is up on the business side, said Techel. In 2018, 18 new businesses came to First Street in downtown Napa, including a number at the First Street Napa complex.

“More businesses opened than left,” Techel said. If you walk down Main Street you will see a huge investment in the area, said the mayor.

“The sidewalks have been widened; new business has sprouted up around the park; and traffic flow has been made friendlier.”

She pointed out that flower baskets were added downtown as part of a beautification project. Federal money has come in for projects. Flood prevention money has come in.

“It has made a big improvement. We have not been impacted by flooding,” in recent years, she said. “The flood zone is part of our rebirth.”

From the mayor on down, there was concern that even a rising economy would not fix other major issues that Napa County faces such as helping the homeless, affordable housing and paying employees a livable wage.

Those problems “still need to be addressed in Napa,” said Merkley. “I hear these same concerns voiced by many customers, too.”

And while business is good for the Maas sisters, both are concerned Calistoga and the rest of the Valley “has still not figured out how to provide jobs that pay well, so people can afford to be here,” Jessica said.

“We might be doing well,” added Sandra, “but some of our neighbors are not. We care about them and are well aware of the problems they face. We want them to know we care.”

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