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Jimtown Store to close by end of year because of wildfires, expensive housing

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The Jimtown Store, which helped transform the Alexander Valley and nearby Healdsburg from agricultural outpost to gourmet Wine Country destination, will close at the end of the month, its owner said Wednesday.

The well-known general store on Highway 128, which first opened in 1893, is an attraction in its own right. Its deli and gift shop serve as a gathering spot for locals as well as hungry tourists looking for a bite between wine tastings. When owner Carrie Brown bought the store in 1989 with her late husband, John Werner, it became one of the first gourmet spots in the Healdsburg area.

“Jimtown has given me an opportunity to do a lot of amazing things,” Brown said. “It’s meant so much to me, and I’ve learned so much of being a part of a community.”

In a post on the store’s website, Brown announced that Dec. 30 will be the Jimtown Store’s last day before it closes permanently. Brown cited the rising cost of running the business during destructive wildfires over the past three years as the main reason for the closure.

This year, Alexander Valley was evacuated because of the Kincade fire. The year before, smoke from nearby wildfires was so thick many people who hired Jimtown’s catering business canceled their events. In 2017, the North Bay fires devastated the community.

“For me, it’s been 28 years. That’s a long run,” Brown said. “I know I’m disappointing a lot of people who are wonderful friends and customers, but I hope that they’ll understand that it’s time for me to do something different.”

On the store’s website, Brown referred to the business as “a prime opportunity for reinvention” and said she hoped to sell or lease the property to someone “with a deep commitment to the community.”

Aside from the wildfires, Brown said it’s been very difficult to find and retain employees because of the lack of local transportation and affordable housing in the area — an issue, she said, that many of her colleagues in the restaurant and hospitality industry also are grappling with.

Over the summer, she said there were five college students working at the store. Soon after, they all left at the same time, and the store wasn’t able to fill those open positions. The store also hasn’t found a replacement for its kitchen manager over the past 1½ years.

“There’s no affordable housing and there’s no transportation, so the pool has increasingly shrunk for young people,” Brown said. “It just becomes really stressful to have to do all that we need to do without sufficient help.”

The Jimtown fresh condiment line, including the Fig & Olive and Artichoke spreads, also has been discontinued, Brown said, because she hasn’t been able to find a new facility to manufacture the products. The line was in production for more than 25 years.

Since Brown made the announcement Wednesday afternoon, her phone has been “blowing up” with hundreds of emails, text messages and phone calls from people expressing disappointment that the iconic store — which many consider to be a landmark destination in Sonoma County’s Wine Country — is closing.

Brown said she hopes whoever takes over the property loves it as much as she has, and will have a “great vision” to do something special with it.

“I’m looking forward to sharing most of December with a lot of wonderful people,” Brown said. “I know that we’ll be visited by lots of friends and customers, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to look them in the eye and hug them and say goodbye and have a last farewell.”

Dining editor Heather Irwin contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Chantelle Lee at 707-521-5337 or chantelle.lee@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ChantelleHLee.

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