Barbara Wiggins and her staff at the Mustard Seed Clothing Company have been dressing Napa women – and those visiting Napa – for 37 years.
Come this Saturday, her customers will have to find a new source for fashion.
Wiggins, the longtime owner of the downtown Napa clothing boutique, is officially retiring. The Mustard Seed will close on April 27.
“It’s been a great run,” said Wiggins. “I do love my business,” she said, but, “it’s definitely time.”
According to Wiggins, the best part about owning a retail store wasn’t the actual clothes, it was meeting her many customers over the years. “We’ve become friends,” she said.
While it’s been a longtime downtown merchant, The Mustard Seed wasn’t always located in Napa.
When Wiggins opened the business, it had a St. Helena address. Later she moved inside the Arrangement Salon on Coombs St. in Napa and then to the then-Napa Town Center, across from Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
Several years ago, during the construction of the Archer Hotel Napa, the Mustard Seed moved across the street to 1227 First St.
Knowing that her lease was coming to an end, Wiggins said for some time she considered whether or not to continue on with the store. She was offered an extension with a reasonable increase, but decided not to renew.
Her husband, Jim Wiggins, passed away in February, Wiggins said. High school sweethearts, they were married for 55 years.
Wiggins, now 74, said she needs to have a double knee replacement. “Standing 12 hours a day takes a toll on an old bod,” she said with a laugh.
Emily McLain has worked part time at the Mustard Seed for 18 years. She echoed what Wiggins said about her customers.
“I love working here,” said McLain. “I looked forward to coming to work,” she said. “I’ll miss the people I worked with.”
Susan Drinker, another Mustard Seed employee, said the best part of the job was “the clothes and the customers.”
“We have a lot of customers that come from far away, and regularly,” she said. Some of those had sent Wiggins notes and even flowers after hearing of the store’s closing.
“My customers are happy for me and that means a lot,” said Wiggins.
Even during her store closing sale this past week, shoppers were still discovering the Mustard Seed, some for the first time.
That included Linda Skidmore Forman of New Orleans, who visited the Mustard Seed on Wednesday.
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“I like to shop when I’m away from New Orleans,” she said.
Skidmore Forman didn’t realize the store was closing. “It’s a shame,” she said as she browsed the sale racks. “I’m sad to hear that.”
One of downtown’s most senior tenants, Wiggins recalled the early days of being located on First Street.
“When I first opened you could set off a bomb in downtown Napa and no one would notice,” she said. “It was a leap of faith,” to open the store.
“It took a while to establish but then we started to get the tourists.” Eventually, events like the Chef’s Market drew more people downtown.
“It was just great,” she recalled.
Of course, there were obstacles along the way, such as the Great Recession, flooding that impacted other parts of downtown, the 2014 earthquake and the impact from the 2017 wildfires.
The Great Recession was brutal, Wiggins said. “I survived because our local customers stuck with me,” she said.
And as small business owner, when times get really tough, “You punt,” she said. “I just did it.”
Providing “old school” customer service was key to her success, said Wiggins. “If you want to stay in business, treat your customer like family,” she advised.
Over the years, the economy improved and two new downtown hotels on First Street brought more shoppers. Many wine tasting bars have opened in the area, but Wiggins credits those businesses for invigorating downtown.
People complain about traffic and parking, but the wine industry is what keeps people coming to Napa, Wiggins noted.
Wiggins had this advice to any new small business owner in downtown: be committed.
“You can’t come and go as you please,” when you own a small business, said Wiggins. “It’s a 24/7 job. You do it all.”
“You gotta have balls,” she said, and then laughed loudly.
Asked about other plans for retirement, Wiggins said she’s looking forward to travelling with her sister and having time to play with her dogs Lucy and Ethel.
She plans to volunteer and go out to different events that were harder to attend when she worked in the shop.
“I might even try BottleRock next year,” she said.