Rabbit Rabbit Fair Trade and Sugar Train are the latest businesses to close their doors in downtown Calistoga.
Sugar Train, a favorite after-school place for ice cream and other sweet treats, and popular with tourists, closed in December.
Rabbit Rabbit owner Sarah Lane said she will close sometime in February. She moved her shop from St. Helena early in 2018 saying at the time “It seems like Calistoga is going to be the right place to be.”
Sugar Train’s closure was due to a new month-to-month lease, which was not conducive to the shop’s perishable merchandise, said a source close to the owners.
The two businesses follow Carmel Gallery, which closed early in 2018 and Goodman’s which closed at the end of November.
Like Lane, Goodman’s owner Amber Ebling moved her store from a Main Street location in St. Helena in 2015, citing low foot traffic in the nearby town.
In Calistoga, high rent was definitely a factor in Goodman’s leaving, Ebling said. Her rent has gone up every year, which was frustrating, but not unexpected, she said.
The exodus on Lincoln Avenue this past year also included restaurants Brannan’s Grill and Tanit, also citing not enough customers, and a hard time finding and keeping staff.
Long-time business owners say business has never fully recovered since the economic downturn of 2008, or the wildfires of 2017.
Along with high rents, retail business owners have also complained about increased competition from Internet shoppers, and more retail shops in the city of Napa, which opened a huge retail center around the Archer Hotel in downtown Napa two years ago. But that complex is also finding it difficult to find and retain tenants.
“Retail everywhere is tough now,” said Mayor Chris Canning last October, as he stepped down as executive director of the Calistoga Chamber of Commerce.
For their part, visitors are still coming to Napa Valley, as hotel occupancy rates continue to climb.
General economic theory is if you fill hotel rooms those people need somewhere to eat and shop, Canning said. “We have seen for a while now occupancy rates staying high, foot traffic in town is low.”
Also on Lincoln Avenue, Man’s Supply Store will close at the end of January as the building is being seismically retrofitted, and may or may not return upon its completion. It depends on what the new rent will be, said owner Scott Hermann.
The same is true for Blackbird of Calistoga, said owner Nancy Putney-Abernathy, whose shop is also affected by the retrofit.
A Men’s Supply Store has operated for 11 years. Since 2012, Hermann said he has been on a month to month lease. The building’s owner, Joe Seiberlich, needs to retrofit the building and Hermann has until Feb. 1 to vacate.
Last year, Hermann described the space as very big, old, and insecure. He pays $2-square foot for the 1,800-square foot space, which is very fair rent, he said. He hopes to come back, but said he suspects the new rent will increase to $3 or $3.50 a square foot. If it’s $3.50, he won’t be back, he said.
Like Putney-Abernathy, Hermann said there is no other desirable space in town he would want to commit to either temporarily or permanently.
Right now he is focused on liquidating inventory and closing indefinitely.
“I’ve been coming to grips with other options, but there are other frustrations as well. The town has been in a lull since the fires (of 2017),” he said. Sales were down 15 points year to date. “Downtown Napa is killing it, I think. People are not coming UpValley like they used to. I feel like, with the two resorts coming in (Calistoga Hills and the unnamed Four Seasons), I’m afraid it’s going to bring in a fancy boom. I’m afraid it will be like St. Helena with galleries, tasting rooms, expensive clothing stores, not relaxed and casual like it’s been. Businesses will get priced out of here.”
CORRECTION: Man’s Supply Store is not owned by Jorge Hernandez.