Too Many Tasting Rooms on the Plaza isn't the Problem

Having read a great deal of late about the proliferation of wine tasting rooms surrounding the Sonoma Plaza and the feeling among some that this situation is indicative of the downfall of the town, I thought I ought to offer another perspective, one that comes from a former, long-time resident of the Valley and Sonoma and who has a slightly different view of the situation.

Too many tasting rooms around the Sonoma Plaza are not the problem. Nor is the problem too many restaurants around the Plaza that favor tourism, but push out businesses useful to locals.

Rather, if you are looking for the source of the problem and looking to place limits, then look no further than the history that surrounds the Plaza.

You don’t have to be a hospitality or travel expert to know that history and the historical attract tourists like flies to honey. And there is no getting around the fact that Sonoma has a lot of history. Too much history, in fact! Why, if the Sonoma Plaza didn’t dedicate so much space to the historical, there wouldn’t be so many tourists overrunning the town and pushing out business and services for locals.

Think about it. The Barracks. The Mission. The Sonoma State Historical Park. The Historic Plaza itself.  The City Hall. The Sebastiani Theater And don’t get me started on all the historic buildings that line Broadway, are to the east of the Plaza and take space on each side of the Plaza. It’s overload and frankly, there needs to be a limit on the amount of history that surrounds the Plaza lest the town is taken over by the tourist who only care about the historical and care nothing for Sonoma and its denizens.

I’m not sure what kind of limit there ought to be or where to draw the line. But commonsense tells me that we don’t need anymore than 20 or 30 historical attractions or buildings around the Plaza. After a while, it just becomes overload, the lack of space for other types of businesses is limited thereby pushing up rents and, of course, there is the tourist problem they cause.

It may even be a good idea to get rid of some of the historical attractions around the Plaza. Imagine what could be done if we just choose to tear down the Mission and the Barracks. With that history gone, there would be more than enough room to build a dry cleaner, a paint store, a computer repair shop and maybe even a barbershop or a Five & Dime.

Not only would this new real estate provide room for shops benefiting the locals, but also, more importantly, it would help drive away the damn tourists who are ruining the town for residents.

If the good people of Sonoma are going to contemplate how to get the town back on track and make it safe for residents and not tourists, let’s start where the real problem lies: There is just too much history, not too many wine tasting rooms. Had Sonoma just put a limit on its history a few years ago, I’d never have moved to Napa.

Tom Wark, Napa, CA
Former resident of Sonoma, but driven away by too many historical buildings and the tourists they bring to town.)

David Eichar February 08, 2014 at 02:49 PM
tom, any number I choose as "too many" will just be deemed "arbitrary", so I won't take that bait. Though I do think there are too many tasting rooms on the Plaza right now. So the easiest thing to do is limit the number to the number we currently have. As for kinds of businesses, other than tasting rooms, here are the shops my wife and I shop at around the Plaza, Sox de Vine, Sign of the Bear, Half Pint, Reader's Books, Sonoma Silver Company, Tiddle-e-Winks, Sonoma Home, Eraldi's, Halem & Company, the Corner Store, Global Heart Fair Trade (formerly Baksheesh), Total Look, Filigree, Eminent Design, H Frank, Harvest Home, Wine Country Chocolates, Kaboodle, Angelique. And stores we used to shop, but are no longer in business; Santa Fe Jewelry, the bath products store (we cannot remember the name), Kokopelli, Red Wolf Gallery, South American Secrets. In other words, a variety of shops where both tourists and locals would want to shop. By the way, I don't remember that many empty store fronts prior to all of the tasting rooms, even at the height of the recent recession.
David Eichar February 08, 2014 at 03:00 PM
To paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, "I shall not today attempt ... to define" the the number of tasting rooms which would be too many, "but I know it when I see it."
tom February 08, 2014 at 04:06 PM
David, Regarding defining what is enough, I understand the reluctance to put a number on it. But can we agree that no matter what it would be, including the number currently on the plaza, it would be arbitrary. That said, and without any reference to a number, how do you know when enough is enough? You do think that what is there now is "enough". Why? And I too shopped at all those shops that you named with the exception of just a couple that I didn't care for. But I'm struggling for any justification for limiting the number of tasting rooms. This is the source of my question, how do you know when "enough is enough".
David Eichar February 08, 2014 at 04:24 PM
Everyone's idea of "enough" would be different. For me, 12 is enough. But I am realistic and flexible to having more than 12. What is your number?
tom February 08, 2014 at 09:15 PM
David: Even if I were inclined to put a limit on tasting rooms, I wouldn't know where to start. I'd first need to devise a criteria for determining what is "too much". No one has done such a thing. On the other hand, If I sat on the council and saw there was a move to limit the number of tasting rooms, I'd move that there also be a specific limit put on the number of restaurants, art galleries, bakeries, clothing stores, and jewelry stores. And I'd ask for a criteria to be developed that rationally determines how much of each was "enough".


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