Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Napa Bottle Blog: Downtown St. Helena

So, I am going to be brutally honest here, which is, alas, why you pay me the big bucks and I guess why my research has some value to it. St. Helena-- the main commercial shopping district of the destination portions of the Napa Valley, has an adorable downtown shopping district. Alas, it is a very fancy, not Tourist Trap, as I usually mean with those initials ...but a Tourist Town. It is cute beyond words. It is charming beyond description. It is adorable as in dreams of those who do not know better.

Much of the merchandise is over-priced; many of the vendors come with more attitude than a Las Vegas hooker. Well, it's just an expression I made up...I've only met Las Vegas hookers on CSI. And I met a Frenchman once, who was, ooohlala, tres rude. And I speak French. (I find the French can be rude until you prove you speak their language.)

I am not suggesting you drive past this town. I am confessing that there are a handful of excellent stores that are not only worth visiting but may inspire you to greater creativity. There are places to eat and even art works to inspect. There's an excellent wine shop. There's no public rest rooms.

But first, to make certain we're all in the right place at the right time, we will practice saying the place-name. Saint Hah-LENA. As easy as this may seem, it is hard for me, partly because I often think in French, and to me this should be HELLanah.

Next I will reveal a terrifying truth: the best store in town is a hardware store, Steve's. Honest. Hardware & Housewares; two storefront connected inside the store itself or on the street. Don't miss it. In fact, I will soon be doing some Shopping Detective blogs about items I found there. But I digress.

Downtown is about two blocks long, with stores and venues on both sides of the street. There is one movie theatre and several bakeries and eateries. While the clothes for sale in assorted shops are nice, and offer a genuine bit of insight into the local look, they are not much to flip for. There are two shops selling very expensive lingerie which either says a lot about the community (remember the TV show Falcon's Crest?) or the visitors to town. Beats me.

There are also several shoe shops; one is famous for its killer heels while I personally prefer Flats, 1219B Main Street, which has shoes up to size 12 for women. Yesss!!!!!

There are a handful of really good stores. Please note that while many stores do sell olive oil, none of them is the place to go. Stay tuned for my secret olive oil source Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufacture, 835 Charter Oak, St. Helena; [tel.]707/963-4179. This is away from the Main Street cutie pie district. It's worth the search.

Now, the best of show in downtown St. Helena:
* STEVES HARDWARES& HOUSEWARES, 1370 Main Street, everything but the kitchen sink and they will probably order that for you;
* MUSE, pictured above, for yarn and fiber crafts;
* MAIN STREET BOOKS,1315 Main Street, real books for real people made with real paper and even real binding and glue, not a Kindle in sight;
* FIDEAUX, a doggy couture shop with wow for woof;
* GOODMANS,1331 Main Street, casual clothes for men and women bought with just the right eye for the destination;
* WOODHOUSE, 1367 Main Street, locally made chocs;
* ST. HELENA WINE CENTER, 1321 Main Street, more than local choices;
* ST. JEAN DE LUZ,1219 Main Street; French tabletop with extraordinary embroidery facility-- there used to be an even better branch in Carmel-- check it out;
* OLIVIER, 1375 Main Street olive oil and olive prods-- this is visually pleasing and charming; another shop in Tahoe.

Much more on all of this in Born to Shop California Wine Country.

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