Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine Business Review February 2008.
Baker Street Downtown
By Craig Smith
Baker Street Downtown, at 1018 First Street (just west of Main) is a radically different business than it was when Brenda Roberts bought it in 1986.
“The business was originally on Jefferson near Mary’s Pizza Shack. The store was only 600 square feet, and was strictly a tobacco shop. I was the fourth owner, and I let things run as they had until I got a sense of the business,” says Roberts.
Baker Street is now one of the premier cigar stores on the West coast: for example, it was the first to be allowed to carry Fuente Opus X in the mid ’90s. Today, however, Roberts also carries an extensive line of clocks, women’s purses, men’s and women’s jewelry, flasks, walking sticks and canes, card cases, games, decorative accessories for the home and more. Why all these products as well as tobacco?
“My customers have asked for these things, and I always try to accommodate them. Listening to people who shop with you is the single most important thing a business can do to be successful,” Roberts says. Other factors contributing to her success include staying open at night (“We need to be available when people want to shop,”) and truly enjoying her customers (“We want to provide people with a positive experience in their rushed lives”). Roberts says her staff, which has become like a family, is a large part of the reason people like to shop at Baker Street.
A self-described Air Force brat, Roberts grew up in Colorado and moved to Napa in 1982 to be the production director for KVON. She did on-air work there as well, and is still the voice of Baker Street ads. Roberts left radio to work in a mergers and acquisitions firm in San Francisco, tried modeling for a couple of years and ran a communications firm, but it wasn’t until she had the chance to buy Baker Street that she found her niche.
“I always liked retail and this was the ultimate challenge.”
As a business owner, Roberts was initially shocked at how much there was to do, and says that it never lets up. “I love it, but retail is hard work.” She built the business on Jefferson and opened a second location in St. Helena, which she operated for five years. All the while, she was paying attention to what was going on in downtown Napa, and eventually decided it was time to close the other two locations and open up on First Street.
“I used to say that if you want to kill a business, move it to downtown,” Roberts laughs. “But the changes going on now are amazing. Downtown is a good place to do business, and it’s getting better all the time.”
Roberts was one of the first women to successfully run a tobacco store, and was featured in a 1998 issue of Cigar Aficionado. If anybody is going to have something special, it’s she.
Roberts loves what she does. “Cigars are about relaxation and socialization. I travel a lot, and have met some fascinating people over a cigar. That’s why I do this.”
Although her “off hours” are few, Roberts spends much of her free time volunteering in the community. She’s been a Soroptimist, which she considers to be her number-one commitment, since 1995, and is a past president of that organization. Currently, she is on the board of the Napa Chamber of Commerce and the Napa Downtown Association. The best place to find her, however, is at Baker Street. “It’s a busy life, but I love it.”
Baker Street is open 7 days a week and every evening except Sunday. Call 255-4434 or visit http://www.bakerstreettime.com.