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Gordon Huether Responds to Napa Local

A letter to the editor from Napa artist, businessman and 2010 city council candidate Gordon Huether opposes the Napa Local movement. What do you think? Tell us in the comments.

Editor's note: has kindly sent us the following letter. It is a response to another letter recently published as a . The writers have also provided their letters to other local media.

26 August 2012

Dear Editor, 

I read with great interest the letter from Karen Garcia and Catherine George, “”

I am a Napa Local since 1963 and own a business downtown. Although I sympathize with the writers regarding the loss of a “local” business I could not disagree more with their proposed solutions that border on the ridiculous. 

I might start by pointing out that the City of Napa recently adopted (May 1st 2012) a 250 page Downtown Specific Plan that was developed in a public forum with a committee made up by local citizens that included a wide spectrum of our community, including local business people. There were 10 public meetings and many community workshops. No one from the public or the committee expressed the slightest interest in restricting who and who couldn’t open a business in downtown Napa or asking property owners or the City to subsidize local small businesses.

In a nutshell we already have “asked residents to visualize downtown”, yes our residents have a say in what happens downtown and they have spoken, I am compelled to ask Ms. Garcia and Ms. George, where were you?

Anyone can read the document on the City of Napa’s website under the heading, Downtown Specific Plan.

And what according to “Napa Local” constitutes a local business? Is the owner of the local business required to live in Napa? Did you know that the owner of Baker Street lives in another County? And would she be required to sell cigars and cigarettes that are made only in Napa?

The evil empire of Starbucks started as a small business and so did Apple … is Apple now too rotten (too successful) for Napa if they wanted to open a store here? These businesses and many like them should be welcome in Napa, not discouraged. These businesses were built by people with vision, courage, innovation, and hard work and are an important part of what makes this country great. These are vital components to a thriving local economy.

And what of the evil developers and property owners? Do you mean local entrepreneurs like Harry Price, Todd Zapolski, Michael Holcolm and many others like them? These local people have invested heavily in downtown Napa at great personal risk. I find it ludicrous to suggest that we should somehow have “Napa Local” visa vie an ordinance, dictate what the rent should be for buildings rather than letting the free market system and market value drive rents.

I support with all my mustard a thriving downtown, I’ve staked my future on it by opening a business there. I believe a thriving downtown needs to be a mix of local business and the corporate big boys. They are not mutually exclusive but rather are mutually dependent for a successful, thriving downtown that serves locals and visitors alike.

It is short sighted to not recognize the economic and social benefits of having an Apple store for example in downtown. Any idea on how much tax revenue these kinds of businesses generates for our local economy? And how about jobs? Or I guess we can continue to drive to Walnut Creek or Santa Rosa and waste our time driving and putting money in another local economy.

The solutions offered by “Napa Local” for downtown are not solutions but rather would be an enormous impediment to the positive transformation we all long for. The answer is not in discouraging businesses to come to Napa but rather creating a friendly business environment where they can thrive, where we can all thrive.

If “Napa Local” is so concerned about local business I would suggest that they raise some capital, borrow some money, take some risks and open a business. At the very least, how about helping our property owners find tenants that will open new businesses and get Napa going.

Half the stores downtown sit empty … follow the suggestions of “Napa Local” and we can expect more of the same for years to come.

I would encourage our local elected officials, present and future to reject any ordinance that would hinder our economic and social future.

Gordon Huether

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George Bachich August 30, 2012 at 02:06 PM
Bravo, Gordon Heuther. You are exactly on target. I agree with you 100%.
Ro Carlson August 30, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Me, too!
Larry Cereghino August 30, 2012 at 03:41 PM
I agree,,they came in hot and heavy ...when starbucks wanted to come into downtown...now they are gone...I think it was just to get some press about the party they belong too. I have lived in napa since I was a kid ...have a milkshake at the old woodworths store..now its a gym.... Last week after the Main street reunion....I could not believe how many people came out to see all the old cars..we need more events like that...Napa residents will support downtown.. I do.
Caroline Potter August 30, 2012 at 06:29 PM
For the naysayers of having chain stores come to the downtown, take a trip to San Luis Obispo. There you will find a healthy mix of mom 'n pop and chain stores that coexist and compliment each other. It is possible to have both.
MICHAEL WILSON "Republican Kid" August 30, 2012 at 06:47 PM
Thank You Gordon
Catherine George August 30, 2012 at 07:44 PM
To clarify: Napa Local has never been against chain stores per se. We are advocating for a balance. Interestingly enough, I think we all agree more than we disagree. From what I'm hearing, it seems that we can all agree that we want a downtown which would include independent stores that would provide needed items at an affordable price, so that we don't have to drive to Walnut Creek or wherever, to get the things we need. Yes? No? That is what Napa Local is talking about. There seems to be a lot of misconceptions, so I thought I might try and clear some things up. More details are forthcoming in response to Gordon's response. Let's keep the dialogue going! The fact that we are all discussing these issues is the most important part of all of this!
vocal-de-local August 31, 2012 at 06:55 AM
I think it's important to keep the dialogue open, as C. George suggests. It's a good thing for Napa Local to bring this discussion to the table. People in the community who actually care is a positive sign. Good luck finding that level of concern from a community such as Fairfield or Vallejo. Most of us do not want Downtown to turn into a Fairfield lookalike. It's the core of people's fears. However, forcing downtown to make merchandise affordable should not be the goal. Big store chains bring affordability into a community because they can buy in bulk. Small businesses do not have that advantage. Affordability is not something you typically find in independent stores. It's confusing to see a group advocate for both affordability and an ordiinance against chains in the same breath. If affordability is the goal, chain stores are where it's at. One thing is certain, it would be wrong to control prices of independent stores. Just sayin.....we can have affordability with chains, expense with independent stores, or perhaps a mix of both combined with an astute merchant's group who can keep "same merchandise" overlap in check. Starbucks being across the street from Napa Coffee Roast is an example of same merchandise overlap. Like, is anyone in charge? Downtown landlords/merchants need to step up to the plate here. They have the most to lose. It's their responsibilty. Get it together!
Alex Shantz August 31, 2012 at 03:16 PM
"And btw, the downtown merchants were present at the City Council meetings when the Starbucks issue was discussed. However, I never heard a NRC representative speak there though, which tells me that maybe they were not concerned at all about the "new kid on the block"." Yes, Downtown merchants were there and weren't listen to. And NRC does view Starbucks as a threat. That's why they are releasing their slingshot blend. They probably don't want to get caught up in the politics. Ritual Roasters spoke and was shocked the city would lack the self-respect to prevent a low quality corporate chain like Starbucks to open in Downtown.
Alex Shantz August 31, 2012 at 03:19 PM
Gordon, You want to claim that an ordinance to regulate corporate chains will be a hindrance to progress in Downtown Napa. However, none of the cities I've come across with such an ordinance has that problem. Benica, Calistoga, Fairfax, certain areas in San Fransisco....to name a few. You have nothing to base that claim on. And yet, you keep stating it. Your smarter than that Gordon.
Catherine George August 31, 2012 at 05:10 PM
Lorie - You might be surprised to know that there are "no compete" clauses for franchises, which can take the "strict" form, or the "reasonableness" form. So we have mechanisms in place which can address these issues, which to me is not surprising. There are all sorts of laws, rules, and regulations in place which govern our commerce and ways of doing business already, and they are there to prevent mayhem and abuse, and to ensure certain rights of parties, etc. I really want to try to stay away from discussions of ideology, generally though, because it seems that can sometimes prevent truly open discourse. I mention these things here only because I want to point out that the ideology I keep hearing, that "the market takes care of everything", is not actually true. I think it bears mentioning that the market has a framework, which is a necessary part of it being able to function. That framework is made up of rules, laws, rights, processes, and so on, which we have put in place for a reason. The market is not actually an ungoverned free-for-all.
Mama San August 31, 2012 at 06:58 PM
What the downtown needs is a good anchor store, something that has alittle bit of something for most people. Then the independents could build around that. Kohls and McCullahs are not big enough to be anchor stores - we need a Macy's. I know that makes Napa Local cringe but it would help downtown becomes competitive again. I remember Woolworths too and Penneys etc.
Catherine George August 31, 2012 at 07:06 PM
Thank you Mama San - Great comments. FYI Napa Local won't necessarily cringe. I'd really like to dispel the misconception that Napa Local is completely against chains or wants to ban chains. Not true. Napa Local wants what it seems like many of us are saying - let's try to keep and encourage local businesses in our downtown. An anchor store makes sense. We just don't want the entire downtown to become generic, full of chain stores, or only have expensive stores for tourists. We want our downtown to serve the locals too. Also, we don't have all the answers. We don't have it all figured out. Nor have we claimed that we do. We invite your ideas. Let's figure this out together.
Catherine George September 01, 2012 at 01:22 AM
Lorie - I can't speak for Alex, so I would suggest that you address him for clarification on what he meant re: anchor stores. I will say that I'm perfectly fine with the fact that there are individuals within the Napa Local group who have different opinions about things. As we all do.
Alex Shantz September 01, 2012 at 05:00 AM
You can check the public record. There were up to 30 Downtown Merchants who signed a statement of opposition to Starbucks. Several of them spoke that night. It is completely incorrect to claim there was consensus within the Downtown merchant community in support of Starbucks. The main opposition came from property owners and developers. You are blinded by what you want to see. The public record isn't.
Alex Shantz September 01, 2012 at 05:11 AM
I do not buy this idea of anchor stores. First off, anchor stores don't have to be corporate chains. There could be ways of using local businesses as anchor stores. Secondly, anchor stores might be ONE way of increasing foot traffic into Downtown Napa but it isn't the only way. And, if by anchor stores we mean corporate chains then it isn't best we can do since corporate chains remove money from the local economy. Why not find a way that increases foot traffic into Downtown without depending on corporate chains that remove profit from the community? That is the question we should be asking ourselves and our elected officials.

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