What was in the Merrill Building before it was Merrill’s Drug Store?
The Merrill Building in the 1200 block of First Street in downtown Napa was built about 1929. Like its near twin, the Gordon Building a block down, it was built by Samuel P. Gordon, an early Napa developer. Gordon owned several theaters in San Francisco, including at least one in Napa (The Hippodrome, now demolished), as well as the Food City Shopping Center and the Gordon Subdivision. Gordon possibly hired C.L. Hunt to design the Merrill and Gordon buildings. Both are two-stories with sand-colored bricks, floral terra cotta capitals, and spiral colonettes.
The first business in that building was Safeway Groceries. J.C. Penney moved from Main Street to First Street in 1936, and they remained there into the late 1950s. When it was time to purchase an item, the check-out counters were downstairs. The checker would write down a list of the items purchased and their prices then put the list and money in a container and send it through a pneumatic tube to the cashiers upstairs. The cashiers would make change and write up a receipt, then zip it back down to the waiting customers. Very cool!
Merrill’s Drug Store moved in in the 1960s and occupied the building for the next thirty or so years. After several years of profit loss, Merrill’s closed in 1994. A few of the storefronts in the block were rented out to various businesses, but for the last several years the whole building has been vacant. The Napa Valley Register announced in the Tuesday, August 20, 2013, edition plans to build a $70 million, seven-story luxury hotel on the site.