Napa Valley has put out a new welcome mat.
Ten years after decamping from First Street for Main Street, Napa Valley’s Welcome Center has returned to a familiar place.
The official tourism center is now open at 1300 First St., Suite 313, at First Street Napa. Longtime residents may recall the suite as former home to the Mustard Seed clothing company.
Two visitors, Ali and Stephan Jones of Tampa, Florida, dropped into the visitor center on Thursday, it’s official opening day. The couple, wearing matching Mr. and Mrs. masks, were married last week in Florida.
Originally the newlyweds hoped to honeymoon in Italy, but due to the pandemic, they altered plans to include San Francisco and Napa.
“It’s cozy,” said Stephan Jones, of the new center. “It smells real good,” as well, he noted.
“I love the map,” said Ali Jones.
They had just arrived in Napa that same day.
“It’s definitely a change of pace from San Francisco,” she said.
Leslie Spence and Chris Spence of Pebble Beach were spending Thursday night in Napa, “just for a getaway,” said Leslie Spence.
They also found the visitor center when they wandered by.
“It was just beautiful,” said Leslie Spence. “They had a nice selection of gifts, and the people are very nice and friendly. It’s a great spot.”
Run by Visit Napa Valley, the county’s official tourism agency, the center offers free trip planning, concierge, advice and a retail area.
In 2010, the welcome center left the First Street mall — then called the Napa Town Center — and moved to the Riverfront complex on Main Street.
Come this year, the Riverfront lease ended, said Linsey Gallagher, president and CEO of Visit Napa Valley. Additionally, research from Strong & Hayden Commercial Real Estate showed that First Street gets 80% more foot traffic than that block of Main Street, she said.
“That’s a pretty compelling increase,” she said.
As tourism continues to rebound from both the coronavirus and recent wildfires, “The Napa Valley Welcome Center will be increasingly valuable” said Gallagher.
“Now more than ever, visitors seek the latest guidance on what is open, where to go and what to expect,” she said.
There are a number of new features at the new welcome center, said Gallagher. For one, the paper printed rack cards for local attractions are no more. COVID-19 made those problematic, said Gallagher. Instead, visitors can use technology to scan and upload destination points straight to their phones.
Free concierge service continues, but the small army of volunteers is on hiatus, also due to COVID-19. Most of those volunteers are over 70, said Gallagher, so it’s not safe for those staffers to return to in-person work.
A popular topographical map is back on display, this time accompanied by a 16-foot by 9-foot multiscreen display – visible from First Street – that showcases a rotating reel of footage from throughout the Napa Valley.
“It’s our digital Times Square,” Gallagher said with a smile.
A new event and learning center allows for other experiences, such as future wine tastings that highlight the valley’s 16 American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) or events showcasing the diversity of our five towns within the valley, said a news release.
The center has altered its hours to stay open as late as 7 p.m. most nights, “so we can be open during the evening when people are going out to eat and checking into hotels,” said Gallagher.
New furniture and other upgrades were originally planned for the new space, but because hotel revenue has fallen dramatically, that means Visit Napa Valley’s budget has also declined – by 70%. It also means the original Visit Napa Valley team of 27 people is now down to less than seven staffers. “We’re doing more with less,” said Gallagher.
In a typical year, some 100,000 visitors will find their way to the welcome center, said Gallagher. This year, she’s hoping to break 50,000. “I’m optimistic we’ll do better than that, she said. “That’d be a win.”
All of the services offered at the Napa Valley Welcome Center are free, “making it a fantastic resource whether you’re a first-time visitor or longtime resident,” said Gallagher.
Working with the First Street Napa development team “was a natural partnership as both organizations are dedicated to creating a more enticing Napa Valley experience for visitors and locals alike,” Gallagher added. “We are so appreciative of the team at First Street Napa.”
“We’re honored that the Napa Valley Welcome Center will open its doors at First Street Napa,” said Todd Zapolski, principal and managing member, First Street Napa.
“Right in the heart of the city, this is the starting place to explore all the region has to offer,” he said.
In addition to Napa Valley visitors, Gallagher urged locals to come check out the new center. “What’s going to lead this recovery is our locals,” she said. “We need our residents to play tourist and explore their own backyard.”
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Photos: Check out Napa’s new Welcome Center(tncms-asset)593f1bb8-25f9-11eb-9670-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or firstname.lastname@example.org