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Spate of retail openings in Healdsburg shows city rebounding from pandemic

Paul Hawley has always wanted to do another act in Healdsburg, a town where he grew up and where his family owns the Hawley Winery in Dry Creek Valley.

Hawley started Fogbelt Brewing Co. in Santa Rosa in 2014 with another Healdsburg High School friend, Remy Martin. The two helped Fogbelt grow in popularity with their formula of pairing craft beer with food well above the quality served in most brewpubs.

The pandemic slowed their plans down, but the pair have finally realized their dreams by recently opening up their second Fogbelt location in Healdsburg. It’s an outdoor beer garden in the 400 block of Hudson Street right near the Russian River and a bicycle path. The restaurant features a modern design style of refurbished shipping containers, but there is a nod to the past with a caboose on the property as it is located near a historic train station.

“We've always been looking in Healdsburg to open up a second location out there just because we have such strong roots in the town,” Hawley said.

It turns out a lot of other entrepreneurs have been looking at Healdsburg, too.

The town has been experiencing a recent spate of store openings that has signaled optimism for the city of more than 11,000 residents that took an economic hit during the pandemic when many well-heeled tourists stayed away.

Furthermore Wines of Sebastopol took over the old Bergamot Alley location that closed in 2018 and opened the space for its new tasting room. Oakville Wine Merchant, the wine shop of the Oakville Grocery in Napa County, has opened a second location near the Healdsburg Plaza.

And in late spring, the folks behind Idlewild Wines opened Ciao Bruto, a store just north of the plaza that offers wines and specialty food from Italy.

All of that activity comes with the heralded opening of Little Saint, whose owners took over the 10,000-square-foot space that was formerly known as SHED with a plant-based café and coffee shop. It also has an upstairs concert venue that has attracted indie pop acts such as Phoebe Bridgers, creating a buzz of a burgeoning music scene.

The investment in most of these businesses have come from local North Bay residents as opposed to outsiders. That’s a bullish indicator that things are picking up economically in Healdsburg, said Skip Brand, owner of the Healdsburg Running Co. store who also serves as a board member of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.

“It’s one thing for newbies to come in,”he said. “It’s another thing for existing locals and families to reinvest in their business to grow. That means the economy is really good.”

To be sure, there have still been projects that cater more to affluent wine tourists, such as the Montage Healdsburg luxury resort where prices over the Labor Day weekend will go for $2,000 a night. The Madrona also opened in April following a nearly $6 million renovation for the boutique hotel and highly rated restaurant.

But the recent store openings have been more varied beyond the traditional wine tasting room as many tourists and local residents are welcoming a wider array of experiences, Hawley and Brand said.

“There used to be a lot of walking around town bouncing from tasting room to tasting room and into a restaurant,” said Hawley, who also serves as general manager at his family’s winery. Recent visitors have embraced appointment-only tastings and prefer to focus on fewer winery spots where they can spend more time, he added.

“I think there are more people coming back into town, and I think that they seem to be visiting a little bit differently,” Hawley said.

Many of them also want beer. Healdsburg residents had been clamoring for a new brewery to open there after Bear Republic Brewing Co. left the city in 2019, Brand said. “Having a brewery back is just a sense of pride.”

In addition, more restaurants are also opening again on Monday and Tuesday in response to more visitors.

“We're just really enjoying a renaissance of local businesses. And I think the tourists want to live like a local too,” Brand said.

Furthermore Wines of Sebastopol have opened its new tasting room in Healdsburg at the old space once occupied by Bergamot Alley.
Furthermore Wines of Sebastopol have opened its new tasting room in Healdsburg at the old space once occupied by Bergamot Alley.

At Furthermore Wines, the new space will showcase the winery’s pinot noir offerings from the west Sonoma Coast region. Those wines are different from the traditional offering in tasting rooms around Healdsburg that can be heavy on other varietals, such as cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel, said co-owner Chad Richard. The spot also offers live jazz on Saturday for a vibe that is more speakeasy than stuffy.

“We try to be a little more casual and a laid-back approach to these very serious wines,” Richard said. “We are excited at this time of growth and rebirth in Healdsburg.”

Bill Swindell

Business, Beer and Wine, The Press Democrat  

In the North Coast, we are surrounded by hundreds of wineries along with some of the best breweries, cidermakers and distillers. These industries produce an abundance of drinks as well as good stories – and those are what I’m interested in writing. I also keep my eye on our growing cannabis industry and other agricultural crops, which have provided the backbone for our food-and-wine culture for generations.

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