The long-shuttered mercantile in the center of downtown Guerneville is coming back to life after a complete renovation that transformed its once-crammed yet sizable floor space into four shops meant to draw both local residents and tourists.
Two new shops — a natural body care and gift boutique, and a nature store run by Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods — opened Friday in the still-faded building off the central plaza, where exterior painting is scheduled to get underway next week.
Still in the works are a wine tasting room for Equality Vines, launched last year as a brand celebrating achievements in social justice, and a packing-shipping store new building owner Keri Yuh and her fiancé plan to run themselves, filling a retail gap in the town of about 4,500.
The newly dubbed Plaza Building is the most recent addition to a changing business district that now combines mid-century standards with hipster eateries, serious art with kitschy trinkets, neighborhood bars and a whimsy-filled 5-and-10 cent store. Rainbow flags, a symbol of the gay pride movement, flutter before a backdrop of forest-covered hills.
For Yuh, 50, the mercantile building represents both an enterprise and a new start after three decades of urban, corporate life that she and her partner, Paul Bydalek, shed when they moved to Sonoma County from Sausalito two years ago in search of a more easy-going community.
“We’re here because we chose it,” said Bydalek, Yuh’s fiancé. “We’re here because we think it’s a special place. It’s a life change that we made.”
Though residents of Healdsburg, they said they want to be part of the lower river community and provide a place that feels welcoming and comfortable to locals, as well as visitors.
The building sits at the town’s main intersection, off the western edge of the town square, near the foot bridge over the lower Russian River, which draws tens of thousands of visitors to the community each summer.
The 1950’s-era structure is bordered on three sides by First Street, Main Street and Armstrong Woods Road, and was once home to Lark Rexall Drugs, which has since moved several doors down.
As the Mercantile and General Store, it has been a Main Street fixture known for a cluttered assortment of goods that defy easy classification — beachwear, water toys, makeup, holiday decorations, key chains, greeting cards, garden art, window decals, you name it.
The building renovation included lots of new, large windows that bring in light and open the space up to the outdoors, though initial plans for partitions inspired by open market stalls were scrapped in favor of individual retail units because of issues related to access ramps and hallways.
They chose tenants connected to the community who embrace local ideals.
The nonprofit Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, headquartered down the road at Armstrong Redwoods State Nature Reserve, hope its new Forest to the Sea Nature Store will offer a downtown presence that bolsters revenue and visibility for its programs, said Michele Luna, the group’s executive director. In addition to educational and interpretive books, toys and other materials, the store will eventually offer gifts like pottery and jewelry, Luna said. The agency may host special events at the storefront, as well.