Community spirit and throngs of people breathed new life into Montecito’s Upper Village during Saturday’s day-long open house in the neighborhood around the intersection of East Valley and San Ysidro roads.
Adults, excited toddlers, kids on skateboards and plenty of dogs roamed the village’s grounds, all laughing and enjoying refreshments provided by local restaurants and merchants.
Just as I observed during the Coast Village Road cash mob two weeks ago, the reunions were heartfelt, deeply emotional and often teary. Many of those in attendance had not seen each other since before Montecito’s deadly flash flooding and mudflows on Jan. 8.
The disaster killed 23 people and destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses. Much of Montecito still looks like a war zone.
After the disruptions of simple daily routines like going to the post office, the bank, the gas station or the grocery store, Saturday was a fine example of how the ordinary now has become the appreciated extraordinary.
Most notable to me were the happy expressions on the merchants’ faces, as once empty stores were filled with customers — and hope. Rather than engaging in long conversations, I walked around by myself, soaking it in. I did pop into a few of my favorite shops to cheer on the owners, and I could feel the swell of emotions as they shared how they were doing.
I started out at the Montecito Coffee Shop next to the San Ysidro Pharmacy, where I had a cup of soup and grabbed coffee with the owner.
Via Vai and Pane e Vino provided delicious Italian food to long lines of happy people. Tables were set out in front of both restaurants and the buzz was palpable. People were just plain happy, eating and schmoozing and listening to music by Bryan TITUS Trio. It was basic life in Montecito on a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon.
Patrick Braid, son of the late John Braid, owner of the Village Cheese & Wine Store and a pal to all, had the shop humming as a hub of activity with T-shirts and hats on sale. The younger Braid had kept the doors open throughout the nearly three weeks that Montecito was clamped down in a post-flood mandatory evacuation — to the deep appreciation of first-responders and residents who had defied the orders to leave. Behind the counter were shifts of people making sandwiches to feed Bucket Brigade troops still hard at work around the community.
Clare Swan, who had been on a sabbatical in Mexico with her daughter, Stella, returned to greet her customers at her nearby travel store. At William Laman, the furniture, garden and antiques shop was filled with customers and the sales associates were happy; they, too, have missed their regulars.
Diane Meehan was busy tending to customers at Dadiana Salon Montecito while, outside, car aficionados had their hottest wheels on display. Dana Newquist and his ubiquitous vintage red fire truck provided rides around the block.
One missing fixture was my dear friend and wine aficionado, Archie McClaren, who died of cancer last week in Avila Beach. He was 75.
Wendy Foster and Upstairs at Pierre Lafond were bustling. Pierre Lafond’s Montecito Wine Bistro served up sliders and also had a live band. Patrons standing and sitting on the patio sang along to Tina Schlieske & The Graceland Exiles, Dan Diamond & the Dairy Queens and Leslie Lembo. Many in the crowd — including me — were wiping away tears.
The grassy area in front of Tecolote Book Shop, Oliver and Espig, Blake Ashley Design, Glamour House, Imagine, Tesoro and Bryant & Sons Jewelers was packed with people, and the stores were thrilled to have activity.
Children were everywhere. Some were getting their faces painted while others manned tables selling Montecito Strong T-shirts and hats. With everyone participating on some level, it was often hard to tell who was a guest, who was a volunteer or who was a merchant. The lines are always blurred that way in Montecito anyway.
Everyone was there to offer support and camaraderie. The heaviness from the unimaginable disaster may have eased as healing has begun but it is not entirely removed. Linking hands and hearts was the theme of the day, and the sheer will of this community has spawned a determination to rebuild Montecito.
If there ever was a group of people you want on your side in a disaster, it is the friends and residents of the 93108. #MontecitoStrong.
— Judy Foreman is a Noozhawk columnist and longtime local writer and lifestyles observer. She can be contacted at email@example.com. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.