When it celebrated its 125th anniversary last year, Stillwater, like so many boom towns, was a very different place than during its heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s. But unlike many similar former frontier towns, Stillwater embarked on an ambitious urban reinvigoration program in 2007 that has turned the once sleepy downtown into a thriving shopping destination with a focus on homegrown businesses.
“There’s been dramatic changes since we introduced the business improvement district in 2007,” said Amy Jo Frazier, business improvement district coordinator for Downtown Stillwater. “It was one of those typical downtowns, but now our downtown has started to expand, and we now have tons of people trying to find places for their businesses because, basically, all of the buildings are full.”
Like the town itself, shops in Stillwater specialize in taking something old and sprucing it up with modern sensibility. In particular, three stores — Homestead by Red Barn Boutique, Nook and Cranny Mercantile, and 9th Avenue Market — specialize in sourcing forgotten pieces from estate sales and refurbishing them into trendy decorative items.
The handmade updates on historic standards even extend to Stillwater’s food culture, particularly at local favorite Granny’s Kitchen Home Style Cooking, which serves up cinnamon rolls made according to Granny’s original recipe from the 1940s.
For the most quintessential mix of old-fashioned and modern Stillwater, groups should pop into the Alterations Shop, where for decades Rayora Moore has hand made and altered ball gowns and suits for everyone from locals to Seattle Seahawks football players to Miss Universe contestants.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Healdsburg was a sleepy hamlet with none of the vacation draw of nearby hot springs towns Calistoga or Geyserville. In the meantime, the wife of famed New York chef Charlie Palmer was biding her time. Her husband had promised her that when they had been married for 10 years, they could move to the most beautiful spot in the country, and she had her eye on Healdsburg.
With Palmer, who opened the lauded Dry Creek Kitchen at Hotel Healdsburg, came a wave of well-to-do vacationers and new residents who wanted to preserve the laid-back, farm-country vibe of Healdsburg — just with a little upscale twist.
Beyond items crafted locally, Healdsburg’s shops offer painstakingly sourced items from abroad that you’d have to embark on a major grand tour to track down. Vita Casalinga, which means “the housewife life” in Italian, works with artisans in Tuscany to hand make plates, cookware and serving dishes. Sales staff can tell your group the story of the potter who has made each piece. At Healdsburg’s homegrown One World Fair Trade Products, groups can find handcrafted items from Haitian metalwork to hand-printed, eco-friendly kimonos made in Bali, as well as fair-trade crafts supporting low-income communities in the United States.
At the intersection of Sonoma’s most important designated viticulture areas, Healdsburg’s tasting rooms are a natural place to pick up locally crafted gifts. And Healdsburg’s general stores, a remnant from its days as a farming community, also offer a selection of gourmet foods to take home, from local lavender to honey to duck confit.
Long a hub for the local farming community, Healdsburg is home to several general stores that have changed with the times as well. New addition Shed, housed in a glass-encased barn downtown, is the breeding ground for Healdsburg’s hyper farmer-to-consumer food market.