Interesting developments have occurred this year with regards to Fashion, economic optimism and local achievements; the influences of which have had quite an impact. There’s a renewed pride, and an interest in shopping and doing business locally and attracting visitors from around the state.

This season, fashion revolves around what women really want to wear, and an evolution of corporate chic. Gone are the days of John Malloy and his formula for “Dress for Success;” today’s woman wants clothing and accessories with a subtle edge for business, casual and event dressing. Color and prints are very strong, especially cobalt blue, and variations of red and purple. Leather and fur are huge, with faux versions that have the look and feel of the real thing but with a major difference in price. Accessories are bold, and a cool way to finish an ensemble.

Customers are knowledgeable about materials and where products are being made. Store buyers are now asking about the working conditions, compensation and location of clothing manufacturing before placing an order.  After globalization of the U.S. fashion industry in the 1990’s, there are fewer companies producing here at home.  As demand changes and wages increase in the poorer areas of the world, there may more incentives to bring a portion of the industry back to America.  The challenge to small retailers is to find unique merchandise at competitive prices to attract the savvy customer and create a mix of international brands and designs.

Benicia’s tourism program continues its success with important press features on our charming town. Benicia was again represented at the Sunset Magazine Celebration as a Northern California tourist destination.  A large photo backdrop of waterfront activity was the focal point of the booth that attracted hundreds of potential visitors during the 2-day event.  KGO did a live radio interview in March; and in September, the LA Times featured Benicia as a weekend escape and a Bay Area artist’s haven. In November, the San Francisco Chronicle and featured Benicia in their “96 Hours” section with a full page describing First Street as a Street date. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Benicia Antique Mall, the State Capitol, Bookshop Benicia (newly relocated downtown), the Union Hotel and the waterfront were included in the piece. Jack Wolf, of Wolf Communications, continues to work his magic and contacts to get this caliber of coverage on a thin budget.

After more than two decades of discussion and meetings, a Business Improvement District was formed in Downtown Benicia. Businesses in the designated district have agreed to assess themselves in order to take on projects to enhance business activity.  First Street trees have been wrapped for year-round lighting, creating a special ambience.

Another noticeable change downtown is the bus and pedestrian plaza at First and Military, which will serve as a welcome mat and create a sense of arrival. The project was funded with a $3 million grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and includes two regional bus stops for a new route between the Vallejo Ferry Building and Pleasant Hill Bart.

Lastly, the City of Benicia received the Gold Excellence in Economic Development Award for the Benicia Sustainability Management Program by the International Economic Development Council. With all of this positive economic news, there’s an exciting and contagious sense of accomplishment and pride. 2013 here we come!