The Cost Of Doing Business

Montecito Journal and any community newspaper is, as a wise man by the name of Dana Newquist once said, like a utility. Without gas, water, electricity, fire protection, and/or a local newspaper, a community is not really a community; it’s something less. Such periodicals supply the glue that holds neighborhoods together. To that, we’d add without organizations like the Montecito Association, Montecito Emergency Response & Recovery Action Group (MERRAG), the Sanitary District, Voices of Montecito, and others, a community isn’t really complete; it’s just a pretender.

Montecito had been without a local paper for nearly a year, after the demise of Montecito Life, so after the very first issue of this paper, in 1995, Dana placed the very first paid ad for Montecito Video, which he then owned and operated.

Dana omitted one more important entity that ties a community together. Property owners. Landlords. Coast Village Road properties are owned by numerous different people; some, like Judy Foreman, who owns a small stretch of real estate that currently houses four locally owned businesses, are worth their weight in platinum. When one of her spaces at 1280 CVR became available, she was inundated with potential lessees. Among them was an espresso coffee chain that offered to pay nearly double the going rate. But Judy said no, she wanted a local business, not a chain, and eventually signed a deal with Maria and Tony Arroyo, who owned a popular eatery on West Figueroa called Los Arroyos.

Her example is not universally followed. You may (or may not) have noticed that Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on Coast Village Road no longer carries Montecito Journal or Santa Barbara Independent. The reason? Some corporate watchdog visited the location, noticed the racks were “messy” and ordered them removed. That’s it. There’s no local owner or manager to override the decision, no one to say, “No, these local publications are important.” This probably seems like whining, but we hope it doesn’t, as we are big supporters of the free market. It’s just that, for us, there is no one to whom we can state our case, except to someone somewhere on the corporate chain. And, that’s a problem.

In the upper village, a completely different situation exists. The Borgatello family owns the entire shopping center and has for years kept rents down and manageable for their clients, and has also insisted upon a mix of businesses in their center. The best example of that was when the hardware store went out of business some years ago. Another espresso coffee chain bid for the location, as did restaurants, fast food outlets, you name it. But the Borgatellos saw that Montecito needed a hardware store and refused to rent it to anything but.

My dad buys his books at Tecolote Bookshop in the upper village, not because he saves money (he doesn’t, and he’s something of a penny pincher), but because he not only likes the store and the people that work there, he also wants a small independent bookstore in Montecito. If he went online to order with Amazon or downtown to buy at Borders, he would save money, but probably – at some point in time – lose Tecolote. It’s Adam Smith’s “enlightened self-interest” at work. I follow in his footsteps and try to buy my coffee from local coffeehouses, eat in locally owned restaurants, and buy what few books and magazines I do buy from local vendors like Read ‘N Post or Tecolote.

We have nothing against the corporate giants; Coffee Bean and Starbucks make good coffee; but we do have something against not being able to walk into an establishment and talk to the owner. This latest event at Coffee Bean illustrates once again, at least to us, why we – and you – should care about what kinds of businesses we give our money to.

Richard Thielscher and Dr. David Winter

Kudos to longtime Montecito resident and former M.A. Director Richard Thielscher, recently chosen as 2007 Village Fourth Parade Grand Marshal. Mr. Thielscher was a director of the Montecito Association for two terms, was until recently a member of the Montecito Planning Commission (four years), spent eight years on the Montecito Association Land Use Committee, and six years working on GPAC and helped draft Montecito’s Community Plan. He’s lived here for 43 years with his wife, Judy; together they have 3 children and 6 grandchildren. When asked if he was going to give a speech on July 4th, Thielscher quipped, “I promised Dana Newquist I wouldn’t talk for more than an hour.”

Congratulations too are in order for Dr. David Winter, present and former President of Westmont College (1976-2001, 2006-7), who was recently honored with an Honorary Doctorate from Houghton College in New York State. He was invited to deliver the college’s commencement address by former Westmont Provost, Shirley Mullen, Houghton’s new college president. Ms Mullen credits Dr. Winter as her mentor.