After reading “Wide-open spaces” in last week’s New Times (March 28), I wanted to scream. The article, written by Patrick Klemz, and Ashley Schwellenbach’s editor’s note, completely ignored the art scene and community hub happening in the Colony District of Atascadero. This movement began with the advent of The Artery 10 years ago and picked up pace when Serendipity Pottery and Red Tree Gallery (now Olive Tree Gallery) opened within a block of each other. Nearby Hush Harbor Artisan Bakery and The Tea Trolley made their debuts.
In 2009, I opened Fig Good Food restaurant on Traffic Way. Making their appearances more recently are two wine bars, four more art galleries—some with working studios—quality antiques, a high-end yarn shop, a sushi bar, and a top-notch coffee house, and Colby Jack’s at the Carlton.
Perhaps New Times turned a blind eye to this charming area of town in order to give the article its negative slant. Mr. Klemz chose the easy way out by snubbing business owners. Why were there no interviews of those key players? Had I been queried, I would not have supported the shortsighted allegation that Atascadero lacks a core downtown, nor would I have agreed that Atascadero alone is in a so-called slump. In a broader sense, who doesn’t agree that the entire state of California is in a slump? To highlight Atascadero’s weaknesses and to focus on sprawl seems petty. More to the point, the focus should be on the emergence of culture that has been gestating and gradually, fragilely coming to life.
The city leaders quoted in the article also seem insensitive to the successes of the aforementioned small businesses on Traffic Way, Entrada, and a five-block section of El Camino Real, perhaps because we have drawn, and I quote Mr. Klemz, “the gay-to-bohemia-to-hipster-to-yuppie” and perhaps those leaders are more conservative and don’t embrace this is as good thing for the town.
Well, I must say that it’s been good for us. We get many customers who take the Traffic Way exit off Hwy. 101 because of the “Historic Downtown” marker pointing them our way. A while back, while traveling from Los Angeles to San Francisco, Linda Ronstadt stopped in for lunch.
Years before I opened Fig restaurant, my husband and I owned and operated the Harmony Pasta Factory (1986 to 1993) in the artist enclave of Harmony. We sold our restaurant and moved to North County in 1994 thinking we’d get in on the renaissance taking place in downtown Paso Robles, but we hesitated, still unsure about a gallery alongside an auto parts store on the park in Paso! As we pondered for a year or more, we missed the opportunity as the scene changed and rents skyrocketed.
Ten miles south of Paso in Atascadero, we discovered The Artery. It was smaller then, like a mini Law’s Hobby Shop. I learned later that the owner, Bobbi, had worked at Law’s for many years. The quaint neighborhood and 1920s buildings inspired me, as did the restoration of the Carlton Hotel taking place on the corner. I easily envisioned a Harmony-like grassroots artist scene. After talking to the landlord of the building I was drawn to, we agreed it was too soon for that sort of business there. It would be two years until the historic hotel would house any guests, and seven years until we actually rented a restaurant space where we currently feature the works of recently deceased folk photographer Joe Schwartz. We have the best of both restaurant and art careers now.
We business owners have invested our time and money. We have donated to countless local nonprofits and schools because we believe in this town. Many of the people associated with these organizations have reciprocated and in turn have become loyal customers, as have many of our nearby families and neighbors. Now the entire community must get out and see what we have to offer, come and experience this section of town.
No, it won’t feel like you are on the park in Paso, nor will you mistake it for walking down Higuera in SLO, but you will feel at home in a comfortably unpretentious neighborhood and hopefully you will witness the vision of the future and realize that something special is happening here. When the economy recovers from this protracted recession, we who had the perseverance to stay the course will reap more than our share. Maybe some day down the road New Times will feature an article on Atascadero and take pause to reflect on this question: “Who would have known?”
We did. ∆
Christina Dillow is owner of Fig Good Food at 5945 Traffic Way in Atascadero. Send comments to the executive editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.