My view of Sebastopol being a retreat for aging hippie artists (note: my mom is in that category) was turned on its head this week. I am not certain at which point in recent history “artists” began to share the limelight with “artisans”, but I am certain that it must have been some time around the slow food movement, which led to the farm-to-table movement, which led to mason jar water glasses in Michelen star restaurants, and the rest is history.
The continuous gutting of small shops and downtowns by big box stores, and the lingering recession of 2008 resulted in thousands of vacant retail shops of all sizes in neighborhoods with shuttered and abandoned warehouses around the country. This created affordable spaces for artists, craftspersons, and chefs to set up shop not only in cities, but in the outer reaches.
Photographs By Wendy Louise Nog
The artist retreat of Sebastopol was faced with a similar challenge of lost industry, and a twelve acre apple processing business was mainly unused and in disrepair. Recognizing that this space provided an opportunity to develop a craftspersons and boutique retail area, it was purchased by local Barnie Aldridge, who planned and executed a revival and renovation of the buildings and area, and named it “The Barlow” after the Barlow Family of apple growers that had once used this space.
It is fascinating to observe that the further we advance technologically, the further back we reach to revisit the past, to a time before plastic when all that was made would over time return to the earth to be recycled by its systems. There is something fundamentally relaxing to hold an object that is of completely natural materials. I believe that even though we may not be aware of it, our brains are analyzing the objects we interact with far beyond identifying the color, but also where it fits into this complex system that it must interpret correctly in order for us to survive. Our brains can recognize that a plastic container we toss into the trash has a life cycle that is not natural, and we experience this awareness hundreds of times each day. This creates a sense of unease, and we may not even be aware of its source. When we bring natural fabrics and materials into everyday use, there is a palpable change that takes place in our sense of well being. This is why artisan products made with natural materials have become so sought after.
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Sebastopol sits just West of Santa Rosa, CA an hour’s drive from San Francisco, and is the last large town when you head West, leaving way to farmland and then the rugged hills and coast of Mendocino. The Wine Industry has spilled over 101 and headed towards Sebastopol, and you can now see vineyards where there once cows and old fences. The Barlow is a modern shed experience on twelve acres of land right in downtown Sebastopol. There are forty retail and industrial use spots in The Barlow, and as you wander along the streets you will observe wine tasting, the weaving of gorgeous fabrics, brewing of beer, the making of ice cream, and so much more.
As always, I don’t want to spoil the surprise, so will not tell you everything about the wine tasting, the breweries, the galleries, but I will share with you three of the spots that we visited. The first is a clothing and gift boutique called Scout. As a logo buff, the Scout logo is a head turner for me, and I had to go see what was inside. The Scout shop is a curated collection of simply designed, artisan objects to use and wear. The shop features artisans from around the country and overseas, and you will certainly find something to bring home.
Taylor Lane Organic Coffee, Sebastopol, CA
A second spot we got to know very well was Taylor Lane Organic Coffee, because we spent the entire work day hunkered down on their open upper level, and it was fascinating to observe the clientele passing through. There was a wide range of the before mentioned aging hippie artists, and also hipsters, farmers, young artists, and people who seemed to be in the wine and beer industry, which requires a whole swath of different types of people. Creatives have been retreating further north from the high prices of San Francisco and Southern Marin. The wine country has spread west over 101, and there are expansive preserves of farmland to the south and west where cheeses of all types are emerging from creameries. The now legal cannabis industry is filtering south from Humboldt County, and Sebastopol is the epicenter of all of these.
Elsie Green, Sebastopol, CA
The third shop that we spent a great deal of time in is the Elsie Green shop. This absolutely beautiful shop made me cry a little, that my life’s journey hadn’t landed me in an old French house with a kitchen filled with old wooden spoons and copper pots. But I picked myself up by my bootstraps, or rather, sandal straps, and wandered through the store imagining myself cutting flowers on a big wooden chopping block, or setting the table before whooshing out to the garden to pick warm tomatoes and fresh fennel for a salad that I had to toss together quickly because I could hear my guests’ car winding up the hillside to my home, perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
Fern Bar, Sebastopol, CA
My absolute favorite was the Fern Bar. After going to a folk concert at nearby HopMonk, we walked back over to The Barlow to visit FernBar, where we were greeted by bartender Matt, formerly of SpoonBar in Healdsburg. Matt was mixing up a delicious array of cocktails, and since I had already reached my three-is-really-all-I-can-handle limit, he created the most delicious mohito I have ever tasted…and there wasn’t even any alcohol! A three-piece band consisting of a stand-up bass, piano, and since I had three beverages by then I can’t remember what the third was, but in any case, I was happy sitting on that bar stool in that beautiful space with a good friend, sipping a fizzy drink and listening to jazz. It doesn’t get any better than that for me. Alas I did not get any photographs, but all the better, so that you can find out for yourself.
The author, and friend Stephanie Guaiumi, who introduced her to The Barlow. Stephanie and her husband make their own wine, and she often brings the author preserves made in her kitchen. You need a four-wheel drive truck to get to Stephanie’s summer home, which is perched on a hill behind their orchards in Lake County.