Over the past eight years, the Register has published 209 of my biweekly articles about old-time Napa.
Many of those offerings were about downtown Napa and local businesses of decades ago. While national companies like F.W. Woolworth, J.C. Penney and Montgomery Ward had a presence downtown, most of the businesses were locally owned and operated.
In the past, when mentioning the names of the local businesses, I seldom mentioned the names of the owners or operators. This article is devoted to some of Napa’s businessmen of yesterday.
The most prominent of the time was Peter Gasser, owner of Gasser Motors, Napa’s Dodge and Dodge truck dealer. The dealership was first located on the northeast corner of Third and Franklin Streets, now the site of Billco’s billiards and other businesses, and later on Gasser property on Soscol Avenue, across from the Old Adobe restaurant
Gasser didn’t just deal in motor vehicles, he also bought land. He owned a large ranch at the crest of Monticello Road east of Napa but, more importantly, he owned a good portion of the land between Soscol Avenue and the river, south of town.
Today, that land is automobile row, office buildings, South Napa Marketplace, the movie theater and a hotel now under construction.
Gasser and his wife, Vernice, formed the Gasser Foundation, a philanthropic entity whose board of directors oversee the Foundation’s holdings and generously donate to deserving community and social organizations.
Like Peter Gasser, Charlie Moffitt was a car dealer in Napa. He served as mayor of Napa in the 1940s.
Moffitt’s Chevrolet agency was originally across the street from Gasser Motors, on the northwest corner of Third and Franklin streets, now the site of an Ace Hardware store. Moffitt was one of the first car dealers to move to what is now automobile row on Soscol Avenue. Jimmy Vasser Motors is now in the Moffitt site.
My good friend and associate Julian Weidler came to Napa with Rough Rider, a San Francisco clothing manufacturer that relocated to a new building between Soscol Avenue and the river, just south of Third Street in the 1930s.
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After Rough Rider closed its door in the 1970s, Julian became Napa’s busiest and most devoted volunteer. Until his death in 2011 at the age of 98 years and 8 months, Julian was president, chairman or member of many boards, organizations, foundations and events. He was a longtime member of the Kiwanis Club of Napa.
Julian and I were close associates in the Napa Chamber of Commerce and the Napa Valley Economic Development Corporation (NVEDC). He worked tirelessly to promote Napa as a place to do business and was instrumental in the startup of several businesses and the relocation of others to Napa.
If you lived in Napa before and during the 1980s, and if you ever ventured downtown, you must remember Brewster’s on the northeast corner of Main and First streets. Larry and Rachel Friedman were the proprietors.
Brewster’s specialized in what was once called war surplus goods and, if you could not find it in Brewster’s, it was probably not available.
Larry, now deceased, was the type of person who never met a stranger. Walk in the store and you became his best customer. In my mind, I can still see him standing outside the store on the sidewalk greeting passers-by and wishing them well.
Henry Hamamoto grew up in Napa and was a graduate of Napa High School. He originally made his mark as a bartender at the Plaza Hotel bar, across from the old courthouse, now the site of a restaurant and a coffee shop. The Plaza was frequented by the local legal and business communities and Henry was a fixture.
When the Plaza Hotel closed, Henry opened his own bar, first in the alley between the Second Street garage and the former Carithers building, now county offices, and later on Main between Second and Third Streets.
Henry did not believe in advertising so there were no signs at either location. Unless you had frequented either of them, you would not know they were there.
When Henry’s health failed, he sold his business and the new owners made little change. For many years, the new owners did not put out a sign in front either.
Henry’s bar is still there and I have not been in it in a few years but I would bet that it is still the same: quiet and unpretentious, just like Henry.