Thousands jammed The Barlow in Sebastopol on Saturday, marking the grand opening of the $32 million retail, arts and restaurant district on the city's formerly rundown east side.
"I think it's awesome; it gives the town the opportunity to do something at home and not have to go to other places" for fun and culture, Sebastopol resident Terri McCall said.
Husband Al McCall agreed. "It's beautiful," he said. "Love the artisans, love the restaurants; it's very cool."
San Jose resident Alyssa Merenbach came to the party with her parents, who live in Santa Rosa. She said she was particularly delighted that the restaurant Zazu had moved from its old location on Guerneville Road to the gleaming new warehouse-like space in The Barlow.
"I love all the local art" in The Barlow, she said. "The restaurant Zazu is something we especially keep coming back to. We liked it when it was in the roadhouse and we like it even more now that it's bigger and more open here."
Workers just put the final details on the 220,000-square-foot complex on Friday, project manager Yolanda Lopez said, allowing the long-awaited Community Market, a worker-run natural food store, to open. Space in The Barlow, the site of a former apple processing plant, is more than 80 percent rented. Only four small spaces and one larger space are available.
Several tenants have leased space but have yet to open, including Village Bakery, MacPhail Family Wines and Warped Brewing. Most of these tenants will be open by January, though some may take as long as the spring to open their doors.
Others, including Taylor Maid Farms Organic Coffee, Woodfour Brewing, Zazu, and Spirit Works Distillery have been open for weeks and report strong traffic.
The owners of Circle of Hands, a store specializing in natural products and creative toys, opened at The Barlow just more than a week ago, and owners say it is a vast improvement over their former location on Healdsburg Avenue.
"It really turned around the business," said co-owner Emma Mann, who makes and sells her line of soaps in a workshop behind the retail store.
At the old location, co-owner Leslie Young said, most of their business came from family and staff of the various Waldorf schools in the region, a dedicated but small client base.
"We would have died a slow death" at the old location, she said. "We had a clientele but we didn't have the passer-by traffic, and now basically we have both."
The grand opening is just about a year behind what developers had hoped, Lopez said. A fire in 2012 at what was then a warehouse used by clothing company Aubergine gutted the space that was supposed to be home to the Community Market. It slowed down the entire project.
The next step for The Barlow will be construction of a new hotel, but that is still in the design phase and is several years in the future. The developers hope, however, to announce a deal with a hotel operator within the next few months, Lopez said.
At Saturday's party, Santa Rosa resident Jamie Batt and her friends came dressed in fuzzy cat ears and other bits of costume.
"I'm just not ready for Halloween to be over," she said, as the crowd jammed to bands at various points in the complex and lined up for food at the restaurants and fair booths.