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Facing steep rent increase, Napa bookstore owner calls on community for support

Facing steep rent increase, Napa bookstore owner calls on community for support


Naomi Chamblin said she knew the lease at her Pearl Street bookstore, Napa Bookmine, was coming to an end, and she anticipated a rent increase.

Wanting to be proactive, Chamblin proposed a 10 percent increase to landlord Marilyn Lazarus.

What she got in return shocked her, said Chamblin.

Her rent would increase much more than 10 percent — it would increase 70 percent.

“I was freaking out,” Chamblin admitted. Nine months pregnant at the time, Chamblin said the news was so upsetting “that I couldn’t even think about it.”

She had no choice but to agree, said Chamblin.

Even though Napa Bookmine plans to move in 2020 to a commercial building already under construction on Second Street, and has a second location at the Oxbow Public Market, they couldn’t just close down the Pearl Street location, said Chamblin. It’d be too confusing for customers. They’d lose valuable employees.

However, they’d need help in the meantime. A lot of help.

“We knew we’d have to increase our business at least 20 percent to make this viable,” said Chamblin.

On July 17 – after the new lease was finalized – Chamblin posted a public social media message and emailed customers about what the store is facing.

The idea was, “If we put the word out there, we were hoping that people would support us,” she said.

Support they did.

Since the message went out, customers have responded, said Chamblin. They’ve signed up for the Bookmine book subscription program. They’ve shopped in person, ordered books and made purchases via the Bookmine website.

“So far the response has been really incredible and positive,” she said.

“It makes me feel good that we’ll get through the next year, but I don’t take any sale for granted.”

“People were surprised we went public” with their dilemma, Chamblin acknowledged. However, “We really didn’t have a choice. This is a struggle for us,” as well as other merchants downtown.

“Maybe this is the wake-up call people need to think twice when before they would have ordered something online,” she said.

Bookmine can’t match Amazon prices for most brand new books, she acknowledged. But Chamblin urged locals to consider the benefits of supporting a local bookstore. Bookmine, which is located at 964 Pearl St., sells newer used books at competitive prices, she noted. The store can order books and offers free local delivery.

“You never have to wait for a book for that long,” said Chamblin.

Chamblin and her husband Eric Hagyard are resigned to the fact that the increase is temporary. Painful, but temporary.

She’s consoled when she looks at the walls already rising at their new commercial space at the 1600 block of Second Street, the block where the Napa Valley Register was formerly located.

They hope to move to Second Street after April 2020. The new Napa Bookmine will be larger and include a café as well.

“We have a plan on how to get to our next chapter,” she said, but the increase “is still pretty devastating.” The increase means that instead of saving money for a larger down payment on that new commercial building, all extra funds will now go to their landlord.

Chamblin declined to say how much her current rent is now and what the new amount is.

Marilyn Lazarus, widow of longtime property owner Nate Lazarus, owns most of the Pearl Street block — from West Street to Main Street and as far north as Taqueria Rosita.

Lazarus could not be immediately reached for comment this week.

Napa Bookmine isn’t the only merchant on Lazarus’ block to face rent increases.

In 2017, Sandy Nugent of Napa Valley Dance Center left her longtime location next to Bookmine. Napa Valley Traditions, a longtime Lazarus tenant, closed its retail storefront in 2018. Both merchants said rising rents led to those decisions.

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Business Editor

Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.

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Napa Bookmine is opening a new store in the former location of St. Helena's Main Street Books. Liza Russ, who owned Main Street Books, will work there as a Bookmine employee.

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