Cindy Zelinsky said it felt like the building thanked her when she opened up the wall that separated her restaurant from the vacant space next door.

Zelinsky co-owns Emberz restaurant at 177 S. Washington St. that had a grand opening last weekend for the expansion. It’s just one of several changes the past few months have brought to downtown Sonora.

Other changes in downtown Sonora include the recent openings of a new Mexican restaurant, a store that sells body care products, a florist and the upcoming opening of the renovated Servente’s Saloon.

A microbrewery in Lighthouse Deli is also anticipated to open sometime this summer, while a long-running used bookstore will close at the end of the month.

Emberz opened in November 2011 and has weathered a historic recession, the 2013 Rim Fire, and five-year drought.

“We’ve held on at times when we probably should have closed the doors, but we knew we were going to make it work,” Zelinsky said.

The new section is open to people 21 and older and features a full-service bar, seating for an additional 25 people, and a self-serve wine machine with 18 kinds of wine.

People can load money onto a special card for the self-serve wine machine and pick whether they would like to purchase amounts that come in 2, 4, or 6 ounces.

Zelinsky said the expansion was not necessarily to increase the volume of customers, but to provide more space and make the experience more comfortable.

“We were able to spread the whole thing out and make it much more homey,” she said.

There was a packed house for the grand opening, with music provided by The Brothers Strong, a four-piece string band based in Sonora.

Zelinsky said she hopes to have live music every Saturday.

The main Emberz restaurant and expansion were originally not separated by a wall and for many years housed a JCPenney store before it moved to The Junction shopping center in East Sonora in the 1980s.

Guadalupe De La Torre, 27, of Oakdale, is the owner of El Arroyo restaurant at 126 S. Washington St., which recently had a soft opening in the building that previously housed Mi Pueblo restaurant along Sonora Creek.

The decor has been redone to give the space more of a finer dining atmosphere.

De La Torre has worked in restaurants since he moved to the United States from Jalisco, Mexico, at 17. He speaks with passion and excitement about bringing traditional flavors from his home country to Sonora.

“We don’t want to just serve Mexican food, we want to create a memory,” he said.

The creek that runs along the patio outside was the primary reason that De La Torre said he chose the location. El arroyo means “the creek” in Spanish.

De La Torre also showed off some of the specialty cocktails he crafted and plans to serve, including a margarita with cinnamon tequila and drinks served in coconuts and ceramic cups to enhance the flavor.

De La Torre is planning to make lamb carnitas for the restaurant’s grand opening on Feb. 2.

In addition, a store called The Naked Frog that specializes in handcrafted body care products recently opened in the former home of The Ventana Gallery at 48 S. Washington St.

Most of the products are made by the owners Anna Stepp and Amber Spencer, both of Valley Springs, who opened the storefront in mid-December. The store offers soaps, bath and shower bombs, skin balms and more.

The name comes from her property in Calaveras County that she nicknamed “frog farm” because there’s lots of the amphibious critters in a stream that runs through it

Stepp started the business in 2017 after retiring the year before from a career as a nurse in the U.S. Air Force. She said they previously had a store in Amador City but moved to downtown Sonora because it has more foot and vehicle traffic.

“We’re hoping to be very successful here and keep growing,” she said, adding that they plan to eventually offer aromatherapy and vibrational sound healing in the upstairs space.

Wildbud Creative, a floral design studio located at 61 N. Washington St., is another new business that opened in August.

The owners of the studio, Lisa Siemonsma and Cheyenne Radanovitch, both of Crystal Falls, launched the business in June 2017 doing weddings and events before moving into the storefront.

“We’re the younger breed trying to make our way here,” Siemonsma said. “It’s easier said than done, but we’re having fun.”

Siemonsma said many of the products they sell besides floral arrangements are handmade or made locally, including ceramics, cards, and other home goods.

Marianne Wright, meanwhile, is putting the finishing touches on a extensive renovation of Servente’s Saloon at 64 S. Washington St. in anticipation of opening any day now.

Some of the changes include a refurbished back bar, the addition of six taps that will serve craft and domestic beers, and new wood paneling has been installed in the former pool room, which will now host live music and dancing on certain nights.

Other features of the saloon remain intact, such as 1950s shuffleboard table and dollar bills tacked to the ceiling by customers over the decades.

The front of the building returns the business to its grocery store roots and will sell beer, wine and liquor that can be purchased to drink at the bar or take off premises, as well as Italian dry goods like pasta, olives and other products.

People must be 21 or older to enter the bar area, however.

Wright, who previously owned Tar Flat Sonora antique store before purchasing Servente’s in late 2017, said she’s hoping to achieve a relaxed, welcoming and social atmosphere.

“I’m excited to open,” she said. “I just want people to have fun.”

Thomas Silva also shared some details about work that’s set to soon begin on converting a former attorney’s office next door to the Lighthouse Deli at 28 S. Washington St., which he purchased last year, into downtown Sonora’s first microbrewery.

Silva pointed out marks on the floor where he’s planning to put the brewing tanks and bar along the walls of the space, which will have a door connecting it to the Lighthouse Deli. He hopes to have the brewery side open by sometime in the summer.

“It’s still in the beginning stages,” he said. “We want it to be right.”

The 35-year-old, who also owns Type One Tree Service, recently sought and was granted approval to open the business from the Sonora City Council after a series of public meetings late last year. He said that the city’s permitting process was a “breeze.”

Silva said he’s been brewing beer as a hobby his whole adult life and is considering offering brewing classes at the business.

Meanwhile, Sonora Used Books at 21 S. Washington St. is set to go out of business at the end of the month after a 30-year run in the same location.

Tracy Hoyle, of Sonora, has owned the business since 2010 and made the decision to close last week. She said the owners of the building are selling it, and she was unable to find another location that would economically viable.

“I decided it was time for a new chapter because I realized I couldn’t find a location I could afford for my business,” she said.

Hoyle said she tried to find another location in downtown Sonora and even checked out Columbia State Historic Park, but determined she would have to store the roughly 40,000 books somewhere while going through the lengthy state approval process.

People are currently able to purchase bags that they can fill with books, with Hoyle charging $2 for a small bag, $3 for a medium bag, $5 for a large bag, and $10 for a grocery bag. She’s also selling all of the furnishings.

The reason Hoyle said she bought the business because she was between jobs and loved books, so she felt it would be a perfect opportunity.

Hoyle said she’s enjoyed working with the other merchants in downtown Sonora, but she said parking and a lack of funding for consistent enforcement of parking laws has been an issue over the years.

Contact Alex MacLean at or (209) 588-4530.