Whipping up new business at Calamity Jane's

Whipping up new business at Calamity Jane's

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Cathy Becker opened downtown’s newest retailer: Calamity Jane’s Trading Company of the Napa Valley, at the corner of First and Coombs streets, on Jan. 2.

Becker (who answers to Cathryn, Cathy or Calamity – any of the three are fine with her) calls the shop a place “Where the Wild West meets the Napa Valley.”

The shop is located at the former Beaded Nomad space at 1149 First St.

Calamity Jane’s has an old west mercantile feel, and is beautiful.

One of the first things you notice when walking in is the front half of a 1937 Cadillac. A little farther in is a train light from the 1960s. Becker said she found both pieces in Cottonwood, California.

These items set the tone for the quality and variety of product that Calamity Jane features, Becker said.

The store stocks Old Gringo Boots and Pendleton, and is working on bringing in Wrangler Jeans and Justin Boots. They will also custom make your boots.

But that’s just the start. Calamity Jane’s features jewelry, pottery, hats, purses and clutches, wallets, belts; even bottle stoppers.

Want something fun and unique? How about a Bird’s Eye Maple Seam Ripper? Or maybe Lip Lardo?

Becker’s goal is to be that person in the neighborhood “who can get you what you want. If you’re looking for something unusual, say a leather briefcase with a pearl inlay handle, I may not have it on the shelf, but I probably know a craftsman somewhere in the country who makes them and is the best at it.”

The crafts men and women Becker works with and represents “are amazing artists, selected for the quality of their work as well as their character.”

When local is best, that’s who Becker turns to, she said.

“We were sourcing good pottery makers and talked to Mel Simpson, who taught pottery at Napa High for 25 years. Mel’s work is as good as you are going to fine anywhere, and when he agreed to work with us, we knew we didn’t have to look any further – we’d found the best in our own back yard.”

Their line of holsters is from a saddle maker in Tombstone, Arizona, a stone’s throw from the O.K. Corral. One of the fine goods is a line of handbags that features exotic skins and that is sourced out of Breckenridge, Colorado.

“It’s actually a conservation effort, as they fund several programs for animals facing extinction and local villages,” she said.

This commitment to quality and character is a vital part of Calamity Jane’s mission, said Becker.

“Our goal is to source the best the California wine country and points beyond have to offer, and to provide exceptional customer service.”

The store and the website, which launched a year and a half ago, are a culmination of a lifetime of experience and years of dreaming and planning, with a little bit of luck and good timing thrown in.

Becker practically grew up in her family’s 7,000 square- foot retail store in Midland, Michigan. The more than 70-year-old business carries greeting cards, jewelry and fine crystal and houses what FTD Florist Association calls “One of the fifty best floral shops in the country.”

When not in the store, Becker was “raised on horses,” and competed on the national circuit.

At 13, she was world champion in her division. She attended Michigan State for a couple of years and did well, but college life just didn’t fit her.

She and a friend traveled to Calistoga to see what this part of the world looked like, and Becker said she loved it. While eating lunch at Checkers, she told her friend that, if she could get a job in the area, she’d stay. The restaurant owner overheard her, and hired her on the spot.

A year later, she joined Cuvaison Winery, working as legendary General Manager Wes Manfred’s assistant for five years. She gave up the winery and moved to Pope Valley, where she ran a ranch with 400 head of cattle, operated a commercial honey business with 1,000 beehives, managed a construction company, and, oh yeah; raised two exceptional daughters.

“Looking back on it, I wonder how I did it, but I loved it all.”

Becker moved to Napa and got back into retail, working in management for several corporate retailers.

She became friends with the owners of Range Mercantile in St. Helena and ended up working for them. One night during the Cheers event, Steve Becker, a Napa firefighter, walked in and struck up a conversation. The two were instant friends.

“I told him about my ideas for Calamity Jane, and he was off and running with the idea.”

Becker was excited about the business, and the two constantly bounced ideas off of each other. After six months, a friend of Becker’s said, “You know, you talk about Cathy and you guys hang out all the time. Why don’t you ask her out?”

It took Steve about a hot minute to realize that that was a great idea. He proposed in December of 2015 and they married in July of 2016. And that’s when the online business started.

Next in Becker’s sights was a storefront.

“I put together a business plan for a brick and mortar store and was looking for the perfect space,” she said.

“I wasn’t in a hurry. I knew that I would find it eventually, and that’s when I would open.” Late last year, she drove past The Beaded Nomad and saw a “Retirement Sale” banner in the window.

“I immediately parked my truck, went into small world and told Mike (Ali Musa, who owns Small World Restaurant and the building) that I wanted the spot. I told him that I didn’t have the financing worked out, but that I would get (it). He explained that several other people were interested in the store, so I just kept talking. Once he understood what Calamity Jane is, he told me that he would hold the spot and give me a week to put it all together.”

And put it together she did. Mayor Jill Techel, Police Chaplain Lee Shaw and about 100 others joined Cathy and Steve on Jan. 4 for the ribbon cutting. Now you can enjoy it, too.

Calamity Jane’s is open daily except Tuesday. Stop by, visit calamityjanesnapavalley.com, or call 707-286-9996.

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