Flurry of store openings in Healdsburg shows city rebounding from pandemic

Paul Hawley has always wanted to do another act in Healdsburg, a town where he grew up and where his family owns the Hawley Winery in Dry Creek Valley.

Hawley started Fogbelt Brewing Co. in Santa Rosa in 2014 with another high school friend from Healdsburg, Remy Martin. The two helped Fogbelt gain popularity with its formula of pairing craft beer with food well above the quality served at most breweries.

The pandemic slowed their plans, but the couple finally made their dreams come true when they recently opened their second Fogbelt location in Healdsburg. This is a beer garden in the 400 block of Hudson Street, right next to the Russian River and a bike path. The restaurant features a modern design style of refurbished shipping containers, but there’s a nod to the past with a caboose on the property as it’s located near a historic train station.

“We’ve always looked to Healdsburg to open a second location just because we have such strong roots in the city,” Hawley said.

It turns out that many other entrepreneurs were also interested in Healdsburg.

The city has seen a recent flurry of store openings that signaled optimism for the city of more than 11,000 people which suffered an economic hit during the pandemic when many well-heeled tourists stayed away.

Additionally, Wines of Sebastopol took over the former Bergamot Alley location which closed in 2018 and opened the space for its new tasting room. Oakville Wine Merchant, the Oakville Grocery’s wine store in Napa County, has opened a second location near Healdsburg Plaza.

And in late spring, the folks behind Idlewild Wines opened Ciao Bruto, a store just north of the square that offers Italian wines and specialties.

All of this activity comes with the announced opening of Little Saint, whose owners have taken over the 10,000 square foot space formerly known as SHED with a coffee shop and plant-based cafe. It also has an upstairs concert hall that has attracted indie pop artists such as Phoebe Bridgers, creating buzz for a booming music scene.

Investments in most of these businesses come from local North Bay residents rather than foreigners. It’s a bullish indicator that things are improving economically in Healdsburg, said Skip Brand, owner of the Healdsburg Running Co. store who is also a board member of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.

“It’s a rookie thing to come in,” he said. “It’s another thing for existing residents and families to reinvest in their business to grow. It means the economy is really good.

Granted, there are still projects that cater more to affluent wine tourists, like the luxury resort Montage Healdsburg where prices over Labor Day weekend will hit $2,000 a night. The Madrona also opened in April after a nearly $6 million renovation for the boutique hotel and popular restaurant.

But recent store openings have been more varied beyond the traditional wine tasting room, as many tourists and local residents welcome a wider range of experiences, Hawley and Brand said.

“Before, there were a lot of walks around town, bouncing from tasting room to tasting room and into a restaurant,” said Hawley, who is also general manager of the family winery. Recent visitors have embraced appointment-only tastings and prefer to focus on fewer vineyards where they can spend more time, he added.

“I think there are more people coming back to town, and I think they seem to be visiting a little differently,” Hawley said.

Many of them also want beer. Healdsburg residents were clamoring for a new brewery to open after Bear Republic Brewing Co. left the city in 2019, Brand said. “Taking over a brewery is just a feeling of pride.”

Additionally, more restaurants are also reopening on Mondays and Tuesdays in response to more visitors.

“We are really benefiting from a renaissance of local businesses. And I think tourists also want to live like a local,” Brand said.

At More Wines, the new space will showcase the winery’s Pinot Noir offerings from the Sonoma West Coast region. These wines are different from the traditional offering in tasting rooms around Healdsburg that can be heavy on other varietals, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, said co-owner Chad Richard. The spot also offers live jazz on Saturdays for a more speakeasy than stuffy vibe.

“We try to be a little more laid back and a laid back approach to these very serious wines,” Richard said. “We are thrilled at this time of growth and rebirth in Healdsburg.”

About Michael Brafford

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