Flood anniversary caps Barlow's year of turmoil
February brought nothing but sunshine - no threat of rain for weeks on end - but after the trauma of last year’s flood, restaurateur Carlos Rosas experienced a foreboding he couldn’t shake.
Each day for about two weeks, he confronted the creep toward Feb. 27, the first anniversary of calamity at The Barlow, a retail district that was both predictably and stunningly overwhelmed by floodwaters from the Laguna de Santa Rosa last year.
While the Sebastopol complex is in the flood plain and its inundation was foreseeable, the structures were outfitted with a protective barrier system that should have kept water from entering the buildings.
So it was a massive shock to Rosas, owner of Barrio: Cocina Fresca Mexicana, to his Barlow neighbors and to the larger community when a three-day storm that sent the Russian River over its banks also turned the $32 million shopping and dining district into a disaster zone. Twenty-four businesses sustained damage - substantial, in most cases - including Rosas’ restaurant.
When he awoke Thursday to clear skies, he said he prayed in gratitude - “Oh, my God! Thank God it’s not raining!” - even though warm, sunny weather had been forecast.
“I know we need rain,” said Rosas, residual anxiety about last year’s deluge evident in his voice. “But it was really, really bad.”
February’s near-summer conditions drew swarms of visitors to the grassy lawns, lively taprooms and eateries at the marketplace, where tenants say newly opened Red Bird Bakery and Acre Pizza have contributed new energy.
Opened just within the past few weeks, the two companies now share a large space vacated by the venerable Village Bakery, which announced in June it was leaving The Barlow.
Also new since the flood are Seismic Brewing Co. and Golden State Cider, both of which were in the works when the rain came last year; Rust Boutique, which features women’s fashion and gifts; and Barge North Company, with “slow fashion” and home goods.
The Region, a Sonoma County wine co-op, is expected to debut in late spring, Barlow spokeswoman Annie Taylor said.
A farmhouse-style wood grill restaurant and cocktail bar called Blue Ridge Kitchen has been announced for the former Zazu Kitchen & Farm space, said Taylor, director of marketing and partnerships.
The mood around the complex “seems to be exceptional,” said Jake Rand, chef and owner of Sushi Kosho, one of the last places to reopen post-flood, due to a full-scale remodel.
“It seems that people are really feeling optimistic,” Rand said.
But it’s been a very difficult time for most of The Barlow’s business owners. Inventory and equipment losses for the flood victims were substantial, and then there were the weeks, sometimes months, without income, while interior repairs were made.
Visitation was down for an extended for period, as restoration was underway and even afterward, amid piecemeal reopenings, and some business owners were just beginning to feel like life was returning to normal when an exceptionally dry, hot October brought more pain due to PG&E power shut-offs and the Kincade fire.
“We all have a little bit of PTSD when it comes to rainy weather,” said Mel Minton, general manager at the Community Market in the Barlow. “Kind of the same with wind and fire, right now.”
Gia Baiocchi, owner of The Nectary juice and smoothie bar and a partner in Fern Bar restaurant and lounge, which did not flood, likened the extended recovery to friends still getting back on their feet after more than two years after the North Bay firestorm of 2017.
“Looking back, obviously it was an absolutely devastating experience for so many of us, even those of us that did manage to reopen,” she said. “I’m still, on a daily basis, dealing with something flood-related. I’ve been in a state of crisis management for a year, really, even though I reopened in May.”
The Barlow’s misfortune was perhaps the least anticipated aspect of widespread flooding that occurred last year after an atmospheric river stalled above the region and dumped 10 to 15 inches of rain over the Russian River watershed - even more, in some places.
The downpour raised the Russian River to 45.4 feet, its highest level in nearly a quarter century, and pushed creeks and waterways around the region to overflowing, turning the landscape into a coffee-colored water world.
The result was an estimated $150 million in private property losses and about $77.9 million in damage to public infrastructure, emergency response costs and debris removal, according to Sonoma County personnel.
At the 6-year-old Barlow, about two-thirds of the restaurants, shops and other businesses that make up the 12-acre complex were flooded.