Just Leave the Money On the Nightstand
Numerous small towns in Northern California seem to get it. They know that their job is to be quaint but intriguing, the perfect blend of rustic charm and indulgent opportunity. They know the value of a wink and a smile, of the irresistible lure of a warm storefront and a sparkling promenade. They know that to nurture yoga studios and bakeries and independent bookstores is to keep their citizens entertained and amused, so much so that they don’t have to flee elsewhere to get their needs met on a regular basis. They understand, in short, that they should be places where locals and jaded city dwellers and dreamy travelers alike come to spend their money.
Sonoma gets it. Petaluma gets it. Mill Valley and Healdsburg get it. Napa Valley obviously gets it in a very big way.
But despite playing host to multi-million dollar homes and shiny automobiles of the most expensive sort, Novato simply doesn’t get it.
For the past umpteen number of years, while surrounding communities have populated their downtowns with a mix of pubs, clothing boutiques, art galleries and restaurants, Novato’s downtown has sported the same tired mix of dusty antique stores and second-rate jewelry shops, with just as many boarded-up windows as actual businesses.
In my exploratory forays downtown, I’ve repeatedly cringed upon stepping into a Grant Avenue storefront. I wonder: have these merchants EVER walked into a bookstore or boutique or café in San Francisco? Have they even once considered the art of arranging merchandise? Have they ever taken a class in the gentle seduction of the pocketbook?
Not once, not twice, but many times over, I’ve heard stories about how hostile Novato is to new business. About how the review process is petty and harsh, about how many prospective businesses have given up rather than beg for affection. About how she makes eyes at every fast food company in the world, but turns a cold shoulder to more interesting businesses. About how notions of a vibrant, livable community are right near the bottom of her list.
The result is that while her neighbors have progressed from kissing to cuddling to shacking up with their citizens, Novato has become a hollow bedroom town. A town to which people come home to sleep, but not to play or dine or shop. A stubborn artifact of a town, clinging to its remembered roots as a rebel cowboy outpost, apparently not counting the loss of untold dollars to people who simply shudder at its pinched, closed-in, repressive ways, who would far rather drive a few miles in either direction to spend their money in a place that welcomes them with open arms.
Novato is the housewife who has long since tossed away her negligees and walks around in a stained t-shirt with a cigarette hanging between her lips. Love me the way I am, she snarls. And we try, oh, we do. But she isn’t exactly the stuff of our dreams. She’s been in bed with Costco and Target for so long that she isn’t good for much more than the occasional blue-light special.
But the rumblings of the new millennium might be making Novato think twice. And her change of heart can be attributed in no small part to a lust for good, healthy food.
Oh, yes. This is a juicy story: more about that in my next post.