When the coronavirus and shelter at home orders hit in March, life changed dramatically for most Napa Valley residents and businesses.

In addition to banks, gas stations, pharmacies, plumbers and the like, food and wine retail and grocery stores are considered essential businesses and remain open so people can stock up.

Napa food retail center, Oxbow Public Market, is one of those essential businesses, and while the market offers a variety of retail food, grocery items and prepared foods, it is also well known as Napa’s social hub and gathering place. For a community strongly discouraged from gathering, that’s not as beneficial as it used to be.

“Oxbow is in a different place for sure,” said owner Steve Carlin.

“Historically, one of the big draws of the public market, in addition to our merchant’s products and services, is socializing and dining with friends and family. Once a thriving sea of people, the market is now relatively crowd free, and the merchants providing essential items that remain open are definitely feeling the impact from the stay-at-home orders.

“Our short-term role has changed,” Carlin continued.

“We are now primarily operating out of a sense of necessity, focusing on providing high quality foods and beverages for the health and well-being of the local community. The merchants and their staffs have been amazing, but it’s been a challenge to say the least.”

“The pandemic has radically affected our little grocery store. While we cater to many locals and serious home cooks we recognize now that our business is driven by tourist foot traffic,” said Cristina Salas-Porras Hudson of Hudson Greens & Goods.

“Business is way down. Oxbow went from a thriving local place to a largely empty building,” said Catherine Bergen, proprietor of C Casa.

Lori Swickard of Five Dot Ranch agrees, “This has been really hard for our business. We have been affected twofold. Like so many other small businesses and restaurants, we have had to furlough about 15 employees at the market, while also making many changes on the ranch to stay viable and keep our supply chain moving smoothly.”

Carlin, Oxbow management and the market’s merchants said they are not giving up, and have committed to staying open by adjusting, almost on a daily basis, to create new business practices to serve customers.

The market is now offering a convenient and safe way for customers to order from their favorite merchants for quick pick up or convenient curbside delivery, said a news release.

Merchants participating include Gott’s Roadside, C Casa Taqueria, Fieldwork Brewing Co., Five Dot Ranch, Hudson Greens & Goods, Whole Spice, Oxbow Wine & Cheese Merchant and Fatted Calf Charcuterie.

All orders are placed directly with each merchant via website e-commerce, email or phone, with orders to be arranged for either pick up inside the market or curbside.

For instance, Five Dot Ranch now offers its variety of grass-fed beef products via curbside pick-up, with additional shipping options and local deliveries within the immediate Napa area through on-line ordering at fivedotranch.com.

For those picking up directly at an Oxbow storefront, all merchants and staff within the market continue to follow safety protocols and social distancing requirements determined by government authorities.

The situation at C Casa is similar.

“I talked to my employees and they wanted to stay open to get as many hours as they could, so we have reduced our hours, implemented safety precautions and only offer take out or curbside delivery,” said Bergen.

Throughout all of this, Carlin and his partners have been proactively supportive of their tenants.

“We are doing everything we can to make sure that our merchants survive this crisis and succeed over the long-term,” Carlin said.

“In addition to adjustments to rent, we are bolstering our marketing and management support, and just being good supportive friends and partners. The market is only as good as our merchants, and our merchants are the best of the best.”

Carlin remains upbeat. “While we have been shaken to our core, we are also resilient, creative, and deeply committed to fulfilling our mission as the community gathering place in Napa County. That will not change.”

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