The Other Half

Oldest Friend, who has made an appearance many times before on this blog, came to town for a visit over the holiday weekend. We’d tried to make a plan to see her last Sunday night in San Diego after the wedding we attended while she was there for work, but previously forgotten arrangements got in the way and so we decided we’d have to see one another while she was visiting for Thanksgiving.

Our initial plan was to have lunch together on Friday afternoon in Healdsburg, which is where, when I was very small, we did our grocery shopping and where I took ballet class, as Geyserville was (and still is) too small for a proper market. When I was young, Healdsburg was a relatively small farming/agricultural community where generations raised their families. Local businesses patronized by local people sat around and branching from central town square. In the spring, local kids participated in the Future Farmers parade (my preschool classmates and I rode, costumed, on a big flatbed truck at least once), part of the local fair where horsemanship and 4H kids reigned supreme. The movie theater had one screen, and people lined up around the block for new releases. It was a quiet town where not much happened. But as the 90s rolled on and the wine industry became more and more an entrenched part of the local economy, Healdsburg began to change. It seemed everyone from San Francisco and other points south began to discover a place that wasn’t as stuck up or snooty as Napa County, and Healdsburg was only too happy to accommodate the influx of tourist dollars by building new hotels, B&Bs, and inns, building new tasting rooms, boutiques, and art galleries, and eventually pricing local businesses out of the storefronts they’d inhabited for years.

These days, Healdsburg is a mecca for wine lovers who have deep pockets and enjoy kitsch value. Of all the businesses inhabiting the storefronts around the main square, only two (a fabric store and a dive bar that’s been there since 1933) are still original to my memories of childhood. Oldest Friend proposed we eat at the local branch of a vegan/raw cafe, and I googled the menu only to realize that we couldn’t afford to eat there. I suggested a different place, one we’d been many times, most recently in July when my brother-in-law and his wife were visiting. I googled THEIR menu and realized they’d raised all prices by .50 to $1.50 on each menu item. Curious, I checked Yelp and couldn’t find a single affordable restaurant in town that was at all appealing. Our plans for meeting ended up not working for Friday for a variety of reasons, but it was really disheartening to know that there were so few affordable options anymore for eating out in Healdsburg.

Luckily, we managed to carve out a few hours on Saturday afternoon to send some time together. We met at the aforementioned Cafe Pretentious (not its real name, but I can’t help but call it that in my head) after Dan and I shared a $6 meal of Trader Joe’s sushi purchased during our weekly grocery shopping. Cafe Pretentious has a few things going for it: first, Oldest Friend loves it, and second, they have big comfortable couches and bottles of water sitting around, so you can basically go in and lounge and not have to order anything. (The biggest downside, for me particularly, is that it’s attached to a store that was filled with lavender, which makes me itchy and sneezy. I stayed away.) We spent an hour or so there, and then spent another two hours window shopping around the high-priced clothing boutiques, gift shops, shoe shops, purse stores, antique stores, jewelry stores, and kitchenware stores that make up the current retail options around the main plaza in Healdsburg.

I’ve found that sometimes, when I have absolutely no money to spend and therefore I don’t have to think at all about what something might cost, going into expensive stores can be kind of fun. It’s a harmless little fantasy, to imagine being the kind of person who actually patronizes those shops and doesn’t have to look at price tags because you can always afford it. I fondled bracelets and imagined what flowers I’d arrange in a given vase or antique cut glass pitcher. I touched the fabrics and admired the craftsmanship of the stitching, appreciated the artistry of the shot and thought of the perfect occasion for the hat. I also saw an awful lot of overpriced junk. And I saw, in a way that is a little creepy every time, the stores that used to be there: the toy store, which got priced out of its lease and had to move a block away – the toy store where I used to play with the wooden trainset and press my nose against the glass of the off-limits doll room. I saw the deli where I’d get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on wheat bread with the crusts removed, a glass of milk or a small apple-shaped glass bottle of apple juice, and a small bag of locally-produced potato chips. I saw the jewelry store, called Forty Carrots, and Mister Moons when it wasn’t too expensive to buy any of the fun gifts, jewelry, or soaps, even for a teenage girl who only had babysitting money to spend.

Oldest Friend tried on a pair of shoes in the shoe store (not a shoe in the store under $50 and many over $200) and I imagined what it might be like to just be able to buy a pair of John Fluevogs or Frye boots because I wanted them. She tried on a silver bracelet, and I imagined what it would be like to buy it later and give it to her for Christmas. So many of the people who live in Healdsburg now, or who visit, could do those things and never give it a second thought, could buy the Humboldt Fog cheese, fancy crackers, and locally grown organic figs at the Oakville grocery for a picnic at a winery or in the town square. They aren’t the 1% (I doubt the 1% would ever even go to a town as rustic as Healdsburg still is in many ways), but they’re definitely more in the “haves” than the “have nots.” I’m glad that Healdsburg has managed to boost its image and economy, because it’s good for the locals. It’s also priced an awful lot of people my age out of owning a home or raising a family in the town where they grew up. There are at least two sides to every situation.

Our jaunt around the spendy stores of Healdsburg wasn’t completely window-shopping, however. Dan managed to find a diamond in the rough – a well-loved Griswold cast iron skillet made between 1909 and 1929 for $5 at the local antique store. It’s easily fixed up and I’m sure we’ll be using it for the rest of our lives. Not too shabby, Healdsburg.

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