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Musings: Plaza is a longtime jewel of Sonoma

Sonoma Valley residents still love coming to the Plaza to meet friends, socialize and share meals and drinks. It is especially evident at the Tuesday night farmers markets during the summer and the annual City Party.

But this time of year also offers opportunities to gather as a community. They include the Plaza lighting ceremony and the arrival of Santa Claus.

And, if you haven’t tried it yet, an evening stroll around the Plaza while all the lights are on really feels like Christmas. We Sonomans are also fortunate to have so many good restaurants around the Plaza.

Even now, it is possible to enjoy a great meal in outdoor dining areas in view of the beautifully lighted Plaza. Those outdoor dining spaces, which became a necessity for their survival because of COVID-19 restrictions, have become a welcome feature of dining out in our own home town.

In a way, we are all carrying on a tradition that dates back decades, when downtown Sonoma was the place where people not only came to shop, but also to socialize.

It was more like old-fashioned Main Street scenes that are still featured in Hallmark movies, usually set in small village somewhere in New England.

The stores around the Plaza included grocers, pharmacies and haberdashers. Safeway was on Broadway next to where the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art is today. Food City, another market, was in the middle of the block of First Street East. Adobe Drug, now Pharmaca, was where the Sunflower Caffe sits now. There were two other drug stores downtown in those days: Simmons Pharmacy, where Chico’s is today, and Fribergs Rexall Drugs in the location now occupied by Aabha Indian Restaurant on Broadway. Shone’s Market was located across the street from Fribergs. There was a Greyhound bus station at the corner of Spain and First Street West. The post office was where Mary’s Pizza is located.

All those business attracted local residents. A few, like Eraldi’s, remain. Although back then Eraldi’s was on the east side of the Plaza.

The mix of business types has changed since then. Downtown Sonoma today reflects the realities of the marketplace.

But some things are remarkably similar — the bars for example. There seemed to be at least two bars on each of the four blocks in our town center. If you count the ones that are part of a hotel or restaurant, we can easily match the number of watering holes of bygone days. Steiners, one of our longest-surviving bars, even serves some food these days.

While the restaurants and taverns also cater to visitors, a lot of Valley residents still come to the Plaza to dining and socialize with friends.

In fact today there are many more Plaza area restaurants than 50 years ago, and added to that are two ice cream shops, a Sausage Emporium, a mini-donut vendor, Peet’s Coffee and the Basque Boulangerie, not to mention the many wine-tasting rooms that have opened in the last decade.

Our downtown was, and still is, a delightful place to enjoy the company of our friends and neighbors, whether we’re dining, sharing drinks or shopping. Yes, we may have to share it with visitors who also believe it is very nice place, but without them, we would not have so many excellent choices.

Just think: People come here from all over the world to enjoy what we have in our own backyards.

So, when I walk around the center of the home town I’ve known all my life, I see that it remains a pleasant and attractive place in which we can pass the time in the best traditions of our community.

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