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SOFA Rising

  • Ofelia sits in the doorway waiting to greet customers at Jeremiah's Photo Corner, on the corner of A Street and Sebastopol Avenue in Santa Rosa, on Thursday, August 30 2012.

Within walking distance of downtown Santa Rosa, the rustic A Street neighborhood near Juilliard Park seems a prime spot for visitors.

Long a haven for artists, both at public galleries and in private studios, the area has been evolving for the past decade. Locals have organized themselves as South of A Street, or SOFA, and now host several public street events a year.

But since the opening of the Spinster Sisters restaurant last month at the corner of Sebastopol Avenue and A Street, there's a sense of new energy up and down the block.

Spinster Sisters

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"The neighborhood's really jumping," said Barbara Harris, who runs the Gallery of Sea and Heaven art gallery and artists' studio complex on A Street.

"We've crossed a threshold, and we're not going back," Harris said. "A quarter of the people who come to our events say, &‘I've never been here,' but once they're here, they love it."

Some neighborhoods seem to change almost overnight, but on A Street, the transformation has been gradually building for roughly a decade.

Nearly a century ago, the corner of Sebastopol Avenue and A Street, not far from downtown Santa Rosa, was a busy crossroads. Then the freeway arrived. By the latter decades of the 20th century, the A Street neighborhood, just behind Juilliard Park, had a reputation for drugs, transients and crime.

"It was sketchy down here 20 years ago, but now it's a vibrant, welcoming neighborhood," Harris said.

The district's greatest strength is its diversity and authenticity, because it has developed naturally, instead of being contrived to draw tourists, Harris explained.

Now, A Street and Sebastopol Avenue are home not only to a few dozen visual artists and several restaurants, but also the Atlas Coffee Company, a popular gathering place, as well as a live theater company, two bakeries, two photography-oriented businesses, three hair salons, a dog grooming business, a shoe repair shop and more.


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