A Napa tradition has come to an end. On Friday, longtime downtown café and store Napa Valley Traditions will close.
“We’ve loved it,” said business owner Cheryl Richburg. “I enjoyed the entire 24 years.” But, “now is the time to move on.”
Traditions – as it is commonly known as — was facing a significant rent increase, said Richburg.
She’d already consolidated the business into the much smaller “annex” space in the back of the original shop. But after the holiday season ended, the customers just haven’t been there, she said.
Richburg bought the café and retail business 24 years ago, she recalled. Before that, it was named Witter’s Tea, Coffee & Animal Crackers.
Besides selling coffee, tea, housewares, gifts, cards and other items, the family’s former wine business, Bayview Cellars, was also located at back of the shop for about 10 years.
During her tenure as owner, “there were ups and downs,” Richburg said. “There were times when business was really good.”
In fact, for many years the whole commercial structure, named the Lazarus building, was full.
A toy store, furniture store, restaurants, book store, dance studio and other business drew both locals and visitors up and down the block. Her corner store spot, at 1202 Main St., had great visibility. There was readily available street parking.
There were also times when business wasn’t so good.
The store was impacted by economic downturns, she said, including the Great Recession.
After many wineries started charging for tastings, the people who came to Napa Valley began to focus on the wine alone and less on shopping, Richburg said.
“That affected us,” she said.
Two significant floods and the 2014 earthquake were other challenges, along with construction and street closures during various downtown projects.
“You just had to survive and not complain,” Richburg said.
Through the years, this shopkeeper said she was careful to update her inventory to keep it current and appealing to customers.
“We had a style (of) what I saw as Napa Valley,” said Richburg. “I only bought things that (we) would buy ourselves.”
At different times, that “we” included her sister Barbara Rhoda, brother Chuck Simonds and mother Lita Simonds, who each worked at the store.
Traditions “was a family,” that also included both former and longtime employees, she said. “We treasure that.”
The decision to downsize operations into the back room came after Richburg faced a rent increase of three times what she had been paying.
“I couldn’t support that,” said Richburg.
The move meant Traditions had to eliminate tea and coffee service.
Customers didn’t seem to take to the new Traditions, said Richburg.
“It’s too small,” she admitted. The shop went from about 3,500 square feet to just 900 square feet.
Customers still had visions of what Traditions used to be, she said. They still wanted “the whole enchilada,” she said.
As remodeling noise and commotion began in the space next door that Traditions had vacated, it was too much, said Richburg.
“They are doing a great job, but it’s not something I can deal with.”
“That’s really what caused me to decide not to continue the little space,” said Richburg.
Richburg doesn’t blame landlord Marilyn Lazarus.
In other buildings around Napa, “You will hear the same story – rents being increased, people moving out.”
However, she wondered if the new lease rates being asked for older buildings are realistic. She’s afraid such turnover is driving away those smaller locally-owned business.
Lazarus could not be reached for a comment.
Richburg has not been the only tenant to leave the Lazarus building due to rent increases.
In July, Sandy Nugent had to temporarily close her business, Napa Valley Dance Center, and move out of her space at the Lazarus building. She was also facing a significant rent increase, Nugent said at the time.
Nugent recently announced that her business has reopened at the Napa Valley Performing Arts Center, Lincoln Theater in Yountville.
As Richburg’s days with Traditions draw to a close, she remains grateful for the chance to say goodbye.
“The local people who have supported us have been great,” said Richburg. “We’ve enjoyed visiting with all of them during the transition.”
“It’s been a great ride,” she said.