One of Wine Country’s most established clothiers is shutting down a gem of a location

Scott Lyall Clothes for Men has been near the plaza in historic Sonoma for over five years. He made the tough decision to shut down the shop due to the impact of Internet sales. "I am old school" he said when it comes to retail." Touch and feel, the clothes try it on is what he knows best. (Photo by Jonathan Farrell)

This evening in the heart of Northern California’s Wine Country, the Napa Valley, long-time clothier Scott Lyall will be having a ‘Trunk Sale.’ It’s an opportunity to connect with customers and foster a sense of community amid downtown Napa’s Riverfront merchant corridor.

Yet, with the eagerness to socialize, there is a bitter-sweet aspect to this evening’s Trunk Sale. Scott Lyall’s men’s fashion has two locations, one in Napa and the other in nearby Sonoma. His shop in Sonoma is leaving the coveted spot near the historic plaza, after more than five years.
“It’s not because of a rise in the rent,” he said. The contract lease was a sweet deal, very negotiable -landlord was very good to me. It’s the impact the Internet has made on traditional retail.”

His shop has provided the town of Sonoma some the best in contemporary high-quality styles in men’s clothes; while sporty-casual, Lyall’s has a glimmer and flair befitting a quick meeting at the office, a night out on the town as well as a step up onto a red carpet event.

With close to 40 years in retail Lyall understands what sells in men’s clothes, these days; it’s dressy but without a necktie. Seeing all the boutiques and shops at or near the plaza, from a snapshot point of view the Lyall shop seems ideal for the wine country. With all the tasting room gatherings and causal fine dinning parties, Lyall’s has what style and taste is all about in California wine country.

 A man dressed in any of the exclusive brands (Robert Graham, Alberto, Carlos Santana, Zenfari, just to name a few), Lyall offers would make him a star at the Sonoma Speedway as well as at the annual Sonomawood International Film Festival.

Yet as Lyall explained, with his flagship location along the Riverfront in downtown Napa; “managing and coordinating day to day operations for two high-end stores, the numbers simply wouldn’t crunch out well,” Lyall said. The Internet and its influence has made an impact upon not only his shop but millions of retailers nationwide.

When asked why he didn’t embrace the Internet with more online selling, he said. “I have a website and people can email me to order things for them. But I’m old-school when it comes to retail. It’s all about touch and feel of the material, try it on. Customers can’t do that on a computer screen.”

And for someone who opened his very first shop at age 21 back in 1981, for him it’s all about the ‘in-person experience.’ Lyall considers retail as something very tangible, not virtual. Building relationships not only with customers but with suppliers, vendors, everyone connected to the retail experience along the way.
And in high-end, ready-to-wear limited edition designs, Lyall understands such relationships and connections as vital. “I grew up in retail,” he said. His mom, Helen Lyall owns a ladies boutique also on the Riverfront in Napa. “At age 90 she still works in the shop, five days a week. Retail is in my blood.”
Despite the Internet’s disruption to retail, Lyall is accustomed to overcoming obstacles. After moving his first shop from Benicia to San Francisco’s chic Fillmore Street, when the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake put many out of business, Lyall saw it an opportunity.
He closed the store on Fillmore Street and move forward to a different side of the apparel industry.  Lyall then opened a wholesale showroom in San Francisco, at the Apparel Mart, representing women’s bridge designer apparel. Scott Lyall Sales’ built a solid reputation with leading stores such as; Macy’s West, Nordstrom’s, I. Magnin’s Fifth Floor, and numerous upscale specialty stores in Northern California, Oregon and Washington.
This provided Lyall with not only important insights into retail sales, but an adaptability and staying power. When the opportunity to open a shop on Napa’s renovated Riverfront in 2011, Lyall was ready.
 Lyall understands the risks. “Retail and the restaurant business are the most risky because they can be fickle,” he said. Despite any trend, he remains committed to quality and exceptional customer service. His aim is and has always been to provide the best. As the 21st Century continues to unfold with unintended outcomes – (the impact of The Internet being one of them), Lyall keeps his sight on the pulse of change.
The focus of his store this time around was to offer contemporary casual sportswear with innovation. This innovation being expressed in color and style for a fashion- conscious man with a sophisticated lifestyle. Along with the casual spirit of the clothing, is the ambience of the Scott Lyall Clothing store as well. “I want the clientele to feel comfortable, relaxed and have fun,” he said.
Lyall’s approach is to welcome shopping customers to sit and watch the latest sports game on the large TV screen, or listen to a variety of funk, soul and R & B music while sipping a glass of wine and visit. This he accomplished at both store locations, the leisurely aspect of tourism and shopping in wine country lends itself to that, especially at the Plaza in Sonoma.
But having to keep two shops going with such attention to detail was not economically viable, especially as the current economy for retail has been in flux.
Regardless of the forecast for the future of retail, Lyall is with those who see a ‘silver lining’ in that gray cloud on the horizon. As online sales continue to disrupt traditional retail, offering an exceptional experience in customer service is something people still want and need. “Sip, Shop, Savor” merchant promotions are key to not only the plaza’s appeal in Sonoma but also shopping over in Napa along the Riverfront.
Even if there is some disappointment in closing the Sonoma shop, Lyall is grateful. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it with out help. Bobbi has been a great manager for the shop near Plaza in Sonoma,” said Lyall.
Bobbi McJunkin helped Lyall open the Sonoma location and was essential in making Scott Lyall Men’s Clothing an a eye-catching, classy presence, amid some very savvy upscale competitors. As a town that has become very focused on upscale tourism, upholding that presence in très chic Sonoma is crucial. Lyall is very appreciative to McJunkin, the landlord, his mom and the many who made the experience of being at the plaza a treasured one.
“Our closeout sale at the plaza location will continue until the end of the month, perhaps until early November,” he said. With 60 percent off of everything in the shop, it is an ideal opportunity for bargains. “Even the fixtures and some of the shop’s interior is up for sale,” said Lyall.
Open 10:AM to 6:PM, Monday through Saturday and Sunday 11: AM to 5: PM, Scott Lyall Clothes for Men is located at 115 East Napa Street, Sonoma. Call 707-933-8770.