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Friday Fishwrap
When Neighbors Object—The Battle of Sonoma Town

By Charles Olken

I get the NIMBY (not in my back yard) thing. There are a whole bunch of commercial enterprises that I would prefer to not have next door to the Olken manse. But up in the lovely town of Sonoma, so long bucolic and slow, the world has turned. The wine business, which after all helped put the town on the map in the first place, has now morphed into the dominant force in the town’s central plaza area. And there are folks there who are up in arms. Where are the hardware stores? Where are the dry cleaners? Where are the old-fashioned mom-and-pop stores of days gone by?

Well, we can all agree that the loss of that way of life is a little sad. But, it is not that the change in central business districts is isolated to Sonoma. The old-fashioned hardware stores are almost all gone. The dry cleaners have moved to strip malls with their lower rents and better parking. Central business districts now cater to restaurants and higher ticket items. And in tourist country, which Sonoma has been for the more than four decades that I have been going there, the influx of galleries, of trinket shops, of restaurants so expensive that they do not cater to the locals is a way of life. It is no different in Sonoma than it is in Tuscany. It goes with the territory. If you make great wine, have easy touring access and are easy on the eyes, they will come.

So, you will pardon me, Sonoma--town that I have loved and still love, if I shed not a single tear that tasting rooms have popped up all around your lovely downtown plaza. Your town looks so much better, so much prettier with galleries and refreshed storefronts than it did a couple of decades ago. And frankly, a town plaza like yours is far better as an easy place to stroll than a place where there are businesses that operate on local day trade. Sure, there is not a single grocery store in the downtown. Frankly, those stores no longer exist in any downtown with limited parking. You cannot go backward, any more than Yountville or Healdsburg or Los Olivos can. And frankly, you are better off now that the daily service business have moved to places with easier access.

Yes, things have changed, Sonoma. Tasting rooms, galleries, hotels, restaurants, even touristy “tchotchke” shops now dot your plaza. But the beauty has not been lost. It has been enhanced. I know the locals who are now practicing latter day NIMBY will say “it’s not your business because you don’t live here”. True enough. Except, my daughter does and I not only spend time in your lovely town because I am in the wine arena, but because I have family there. Things have changed. The world has not been lost because the touring business that you have willing promoted in the past has succeeded.

My advice to you is the same that I got when I saw my downtown here in Alameda lose out to the new shopping center. Get used to it. In the long run, it is way better to let your town get better looking and have more diversity. You have not become Disneyland. You have become Tuscany. Congratulations.

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by Bree
Posted on:3/7/2014 2:53:20 PM

Many old time Sonoma's sit back and scratch our heads at this group of NIMBY's. They came as tourists - not for the old hardware store (that is now a high priced clothing store, jewelry store, "stuff" store), not for the skating rink (now several high end restaurants, high priced clothing stores and stuff stores), etc... they came for "stuff". Not everyday stuff but tourist stuff - including wine. We get tired of their whining. The plaza hasn't been for regulars locals for a long time. We wish they would get a life. At least the wineries ARE LOCAL, their products ARE LOCAL and they are grown, made, bottled, sold BY LOCALS!!!!!!!!!!!

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