Petaluma Seed Bank to leave iconic bank building

Ellyn Mavalwalla sorts hundreds of various seeds to be stocked at the Seed Bank in Petaluma in this 2014 file photo. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)


Since 2009, the Petaluma Seed Bank has inhabited the iconic 1920s-era bank building at the corner of East Washington Street and Petaluma Boulevard, its 30-foot vaulted ceilings adorned with agricultural symbols representing the agrarian wealth that flooded the bank when it was built.

It has served as a fitting home for the West Coast headquarters of Missouri-based Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Owned by Emilee and Jere Gettle, the company organizes Santa Rosa’s annual National Heirloom Exposition and boasts a catalog of more than 1,800 varieties of seeds collected from all over the world.

But this spring that will end when the Seed Bank moves down the block into a space one-quarter the size of the old 10,000-square-foot Sonoma County National Bank building.

“(Jere Gettle) likes everything that’s old, so this old building — the windows are beautiful so it was this visual thing,” said store manager Ellyn Mavalwalla. “And then the play on words. He saves seeds. It’s a bank. Seed Bank.”

The Seed Bank will lose much when it downsizes, both in inventory and iconography.

The mobile, featuring giant dried gourds that sway gently overhead, likely won’t make the move.

They will no longer stock quite so many books or gardening tools, instead directing customers looking for such things to other neighborhood shops.

And they’ve invited the two ghosts they say inhabit the building to join them, but no word yet on whether they’ll choose to make the jump to the new storefront at 110 Petaluma Blvd. N.

“It’s just more space than we need,” Mavalwalla said, sitting in a rocking chair about noon Thursday. “It got to be more like a farm store, or a department store in a lot of ways, and that’s not what we are. We’re a seed store.”

Among the 20 or so customers perusing the racks of seed packets Thursday was Sheryl Cardoza. The 64-year-old was in town from Southern California where her family has a 1-acre “garden farm” in Chino. It was her third visit to the store, and on this day she was shopping for her niece, in particular.

“She just wants to be here so badly,” said Cardoza, holding seed packets for German giant radishes, Boston pickling cucumbers, zinnias, yellow vernissage tomatoes, Ali Baba watermelons, Mexican torch sunflowers and Henderson’s pink ponderosa tomatoes. “There’s nothing like this in Southern California.”

The move has been in the works for about a year, Mavalwalla said, but it’s bittersweet for staff members, who like so many of the building’s visitors have come to feel at home in the space, with its original marble floors, worn down where Petalumans used to stand and do their banking with tellers.

“It was really hard for them to decide to move,” she said. “We all love it. … Most people are sad that we’ll be leaving, but they understand it’s a lot of space.”

There is no set date yet for the location inside the bank building to close, Mavalwalla said, though they are aiming to open at the new storefront sometime in March or April.

In advance of the move, the Seed Bank will be holding a sale on seeds today and Sunday, with all 2017 seed packets and selected 2018 seed varieties going for just $1.

You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 707-521-5205 or On Twitter @SeaWarren.