Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine Business Review November 2006.
The Mustard Seed Clothing Company
– Celebrating 20 Years
By Jim Brumm
Napa has enjoyed a resurgence of successful businesses of late. New stores are popping up all over the place to take part in the revitalization of the city. But the current business-friendly atmosphere would not have been possible but for the hard work and pioneering efforts of Napa’s long-time businesses that hung in there through the hard times, believing in Napa’s viability.
Barbara Wiggins, owner of the Mustard Seed Clothing Company in downtown Napa, is one of those pioneers. Well known to the community at large, Barbara has been greeting customers at her store with her cheerful personality and sunny smile for twenty years.
Though the Mustard Seed Clothing Company is well-established now, that wasn’t always the case, and its story is the story of Napa’s emergence from the doldrums.
Barbara Wiggins came to Napa at twelve years old. She attended Napa High School and Napa Junior College and married Jim, her high school sweetheart. They recently celebrated their 42nd anniversary.
They have three daughters, Kim, Stacee and Wendy, and four granddaughters, Hailey, Olivia, Sierra and Kaylee.
They married in 1964. Jim graduated from Cal Poly San Louis Obispo, worked for Coopers and Lybrand, a national Accounting Firm in Los Angeles for 6 years then transferred to the Seattle office in 1971. Barbara, an avid tennis player, noticed that the area didn’t have a tennis shop, so she and a partner, Bernie Hochfeld, opened one. This was when her children were young.
“We had a big room in the back,” she said, laughing at the memory, “where the kids would play after school and do their homework or whatever.”
Then, in 1981, “Jim got tired of corporate life and I got sick of the weather. Almost everyone I knew that left the valley had returned. We did too.”
They bought the home they live in today and settled down. But Barbara has the retail bug in her blood and she didn’t stay settled for long.
“Our friends Steve and Anne Yates called us and suggested we open a store together,” she said. They chose the name Mustard Seed as they were driving up the valley admiring the mustard growing between the vines. “And we needed a name fast so we could sign the lease!” she said, laughing again.
Just six months later her partners had to leave the business, and Barbara has been solo ever since.
Barbara laughs and smiles a lot, and, though she waves off the suggestion, her loving, happy personality—as her customers will attest, is one of the reasons for the success of her business. She needed that positive attitude to get through the hard times.
“When we first opened,” she said, looking off to the side, “times were slow. Napa was deader than a doornail and keeping a business open wasn’t easy.” She looked back and smiled, “One thing I remember is that I was very lucky to have so many great friends. I think some of my friends bought stuff they never wore just to support the store. I attribute my success to their support.”
In those days Downtown Napa was struggling. Retail spaces stood empty everywhere. But Barbara hung in there because of her love for the community and her belief and faith in its potential.
“Napa’s my hometown,” she said. “I wanted more than anything for this town be successful, to bring it back. Downtown is the heart of the valley, a place I call home”
Today, the community owes a lot to merchants like Barbara Wiggins who took a chance on the town they loved and not only created jobs, but inspired others to open businesses too.
“It took a while to establish roots,” she said, “but now it’s blossoming all around us.”
In our homogenized world of chain stores and sameness, the Mustard Seed Clothing Company stands out like a refreshing oasis. Barbara carries an eclectic array of clothing for women aged 35 and up.
“We carry clothes that have great style and fit. Trendy fashion is fleeting, but great style is forever.” she said.
The Mustard Seed Clothing Company carries lines that offer unique style and affordability, such as Joseph Ribkoff, Tribal, Christopher Blue and Eilene Fisher and many lines you can’t find in the chain stores,” she said. “I just want every women to feel good about themselves. Every day I think, I hope I can make just one woman feel beautiuful today.”
Barbara greets all her customers with a big smile as they walk in; many of them have been shopping there for the entire twenty years she’s been in business Downtown.
“Everyone that walks in that door,” said Barbara, pointing, “is a friend, I love being here with them, I love the sense of belonging. We’re selling service here, and a relaxed place to shop and visit. We’re here to serve the local people and it’s wonderful that visitors to Napa love the uniqueness of our lines as well.”
The words painted on the wall in the back of her store capture Barbara’s philosophy perfectly: Think deeply, speak gently, love much, laugh often, work hard, give freely, and dress well.
In addition to running her business, Barbara Wiggins has, for fifteen or so years, produced a fashion show using local models to help support “The Day For the Queen,” a charity for Queen of the Valley Hospital. She also donates generously to other charities with an emphasis on those benefiting women and children.
Loyal customers will be happy to know that Barbara recently renewed her lease for the Mustard Seed—for another five years. The local icon, bedrock business and friendly, loving place that is The Mustard Seed Clothing Company isn’t going anywhere any time soon. And neither is Barbara.
“I plan to have them wheel me out!” she said, waving her hand over her shoulder and laughing yet again as she walked away to greet another customer.
Come celebrate The Mustard Seed Clothing Company’s 20th anniversary Open House on Thursday, November 9th from 1:00pm to 6:00pm and enjoy food, wine and good company. Enter during your visit to win a $100 gift certificate—one lucky winner chosen each hour from 2:00 to 6:00pm. The Mustard Seed Clothing Company is located at 1301 Napa Town Center, Napa, CA 94559. 707-255-4222.