The St. Helena Planning Commission rejected an application for a downtown health and beauty shop on Tuesday, citing the questionable reputation of the store’s other locations.
With Commissioners David Knudsen and Lester Hardy absent, the commission voted 3-0 to reject the store, directing city staff to return at a future meeting with formal findings of denial.
Green Biotics, which has stores in Florida and La Jolla, had proposed to move into the former Gathered space at 1309B Main St. A written application stated that the store would sell vitamins, supplements, tea, coffee and “derma care products.”
Commissioners and a few members of the public noted one-star online reviews for the La Jolla store, with customers saying they’d been offered free tea samples as they passed the store, subjected to high-pressure sales tactics once they went inside, and been left frustrated by the store’s no-return policy.
Commissioners also talked about the store’s expensive products and questioned whether it could meet standards in the General Plan that encourage local-serving businesses that are consistent with St. Helena’s “community image.” No representatives of the store attended Tuesday’s hearing.
“I think this may have three strikes against it,” said Commissioner John Ponte. “A, they’re not here. B, they’re a formula business. C, it seems to me their pricing structure is such that even though St. Helena is a relatively wealthy town, this is above and beyond what one could consider to be local-serving. Three strikes.”
Commission Chair Grace Kistner said the other stores had earned D and D- grades from the Better Business Bureau.
“I don’t think they belong in our town,” she said.
When contacted for comment on Wednesday morning, applicant Itay Maor said he’d been aware of the hearing but he’d “thought this was something that was happening from the inside.”
“I didn’t know that I should come. I didn’t know it was an option,” he said, adding that he’s already paying rent for the space.
In an email, the Planning Department notified Maor of the hearing date, told him that the commission might approve or deny his project, and recommended that he prepare a presentation to the commission.
All eight of the Yelp reviews for the La Jolla store give it one star. Maor said he owns that store and is aware of only one bad review on the site, which he attributed to a disgruntled former employee.
Maor likened Green Biotics’ sales model to that of Teavana, which also offers customers free tea samples. He denied that the business uses “high-pressure” sales tactics.
The owners of Salon St. Helena by Bill Hoshall, formerly Heaven and Earth, spoke against the proposed store, with Bill Hoshall calling it “a rip-off.”
Real estate agent Jeff Feeney alluded to unhappy customers at the La Jolla store.
“This is a prime example of what we want to avoid, even at the expense of keeping the storefront empty,” he said.