There are two new people at the St. Helena Chamber of Commerce who will play a pivotal role as St. Helena businesses and the downtown vibe look to rebound from the fires and the lingering effects of the recession.
We’re referring to Amy Carabba-Salazar, the Chamber’s new president/CEO, and Joaquin Razo, vice president and chief strategy officer.
We met Razo last week and hope to meet Carabba-Salazar early in the new year. Being at the Chamber for only one month, Razo’s unfamiliarity with St. Helena is to be expected. He and Carabba-Salazar are assessing where the Chamber is and where members want it to go in 2018 and beyond.
The Chamber needs to serve its members, Razo said. That seems like an obvious point, but we’ve heard from some merchants who feel that only certain segments of the Chamber had been served in the past. We hope the Chamber is going back to the basics of marketing local businesses and the city at large, after years of mixing marketing with sometimes controversial political initiatives.
Razo talked about plans to define and expand the city’s “digital footprint.” When asked what that meant, he described it as the web, social media and online “influencers.”
For example, on Dec. 30 food blogger Teri Turner, who goes by the handle @NoCrumbsLeft, is holding a social media meet-up to highlight St. Helena businesses. So far 75 people have signed up to meet at Gott’s and then tour St. Helena’s restaurants and shops. The goal is to generate the kind of promotional buzz that St. Helena has been lacking.
On top of that, we’d like the Chamber to find out more about St. Helena’s target market and develop strategies accordingly. We understand that millennials respond well to the digital and social media strategies Razo referred to, but we don’t want to miss out on other audiences.
However, the Chamber also needs to focus on internal issues. We encourage the new Chamber leadership to meet one-on-one with each of the merchants on Main Street. It is important for the Chamber to hear their concerns and their ideas about how to increase St. Helena’s potential now that the Chamber is building a new strategy. Merchants are eager to help. Some of them have been in the city for over 30 years, so they can offer a strong historical perspective.
We encourage the Chamber to strengthen its communication with the city and understand the different fees and permit requirements so the Chamber can communicate clearly with any new merchant interested in coming to St. Helena. Creating a more vibrant business scene will only be possible if the Chamber, landlords and merchants, the council, city staff and the community take active roles in supporting it.
We also would love to see a distinctive event to bring shoppers to St. Helena during the off-season when tourism slows down. Over the years we’ve seen events like the Mustard Festival and Cheers develop a loyal following only to be disbanded for various reasons, and in the absence of anything particularly fun and exciting — and with hotels popping up in neighboring cities — local merchants are seeing potential shoppers go to Napa, Yountville and Calistoga instead.
Calistoga’s annual Lighted Tractor Parade appeals to locals and tourists. Other towns throughout the Napa Valley celebrate Christmas with special events designed to build excitement and bring people downtown. They include light shows, the arrival of Santa Claus on a firetruck and parades down Main Street.
What could be a unique twist to make St. Helena attractive and bring people to shop downtown? We have heard ideas about “Victorian Winterland,” “A Christmas Dream” and others. Maybe the Chamber along with the city could hold a contest or a gathering to plan a unique theme for next holiday season.
All of these ideas are worth exploring next year. To bring people to shop downtown, we need to create positive memories to offset the current vehicle traffic, lack of visitor-friendly restrooms, lack of parking and other deficiencies.
We need better holiday decorations. In a letter to merchants, Carabba-Salazar acknowledged the complaints and pledged to straighten things out in time for the next holiday season.
We are happy that the Christmas wreaths and lights are up. It’s an example of how the city, Chamber and merchants can collaborate to create something that benefits us all. But it should have gotten done sooner. Early missteps can occur of course, but the town and its merchant base can’t afford many more.
We liked the Chamber’s latest 30-second marketing video, which has already attracted more than 40,000 views. The message that St. Helena is open for business aligns with the valley-wide marketing campaign informing folks that despite the fires the Napa Valley is far from a smoking wasteland.
Razo and Carabba-Salazar have their work cut out for them. We wish them luck and join local merchants in offering them a helpful hand. Collaboration is what will bring positive results.