This February 14th is more than Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday. This February 14th will mark 1 year of 1UV Gallery Studio's doors being open to the public. It has been an interesting 12 months getting to know the Saratoga community and also becoming accustomed to being the owner of a brick and mortar business on a main street of a downtown. If you have never visited Saratoga it is a small historical village with a colorful past intertwined with California agriculture, the Temperance Movement, lumber industry, and tourism. These days the Village is a cluster of mid-grade eateries (with a couple high end restaurants), salons, wineries, hiking trails and the main attraction: Mountain Winery.
There is little to no retail. 1UV is something of a unicorn on Big Basin Way/HWY 9 (Main Street) Saratoga. Other than 1UV there is an Art co-op, a second-hand clothing store, a florist, UPS, an antique shop, a guitar shop, and a shop that sells table linens and tchatchkes. Other non-food and booze related businesses include a whole bunch of lawyers and estate planners, therapists, real estate agents, a yoga studio, and a place to take Art classes. But mostly it's a place to eat and drink booze. I chose to open my business in Saratoga because the space I found (14572 Big Basin Way Unit F) was the right size, price and distance from my house and I thought restaurants might provide some foot traffic or at least the Chamber of Commerce or City Counsel might be interested in some new and unique retail moving into town and be supportive. None of these things have turned out to be the case...and I'm not even going to go into the saga of my address. Well, maybe a little. The company that manages the property I rent for my business has changed my address three times in the year I have been here and refuses to give me in writing what my address actually is though I have requested it in writing to both the comapny, Intempus, and the property owner, Greg Tyler of Petaluma, CA. ANYWAY...
Post COVID, businesses owners I talk to, no matter what type of business they run, say similar things. Every year is different. Numbers are down, and a meanness has grown and risen in residents and those who visit. Upon opening my store many local residents who visited took delight in telling me my business would fail that they would never buy anything from me. These people stick their heads in and say things like, "How's business? I never see anyone in your shop." As if empty store fronts benefit them or anyone else. The local Chamber boasts that they support their members, but none of the businesses that have been in downtown Saratoga long term (over 10 years) have anything positive to say about the organization and my own personal experience has been that they have misrepresented my business to others, not helped in marketing and promotion (as they promised), have been unorganized and looking for a handout at every turn. The events they do plan are OK for what they are but are running on the steam of events past and did nothing to bring any actual business to my or other retail venues in town...and many of the restaurant owners complained to me privately about the mess and cost to them as a result of the people who come in for the events but do not patronize their businesses.
Then there are the myriad other local clubs that have their events and parties about town that are constantly looking for something free from businesses that they do nothing to financially support in any way. I've been asked to pay to participate in Art events that would have me cart my work out of my space to another space just a mile down the road for an afternoon. I've also been asked to volunteer my time and efforts to organizations that have done nothing to support my business in any way. When I have declined people have been upset. I really don't understand this mentality. I'm already paying to be here. On top of that my shop has been attacked and threatened by local residents and I have been personally threatened by a particular individual on two occasions. And I haven't even mentioned the (mostly women) who come in and ask me how much money I make and how much my rent costs me or suggest that I showcase someone else's work or be a teacher...or the vitriol from anti-choice zealots. It's all very strange...and rude.
When I patronize local establishments there is a common thread in many conversations of fellow patrons bragging about how much money they spend on their car or travel or eating/drinking out, but if you attempt to have a conversation about Art or Culture or current events there are few who have anything of substance to offer. I've never had a brick and mortar business before. So, I don't know what to make of all this. Is this what COVID did to everyone? Did it somehow give license to entire communities to become mean, petty, and rude? A local woman asked me where I lived at one point and when I told her the approximate location of my home neighborhood she made some comment about knowing about the "shacks" over there. My home isn't grand but it is certainly far from a shack or the monstrosities on smaller than postage stamp lots that I pass on my way into work every day. (I privately consider such properties high-priced slums...but I usually keep such thoughts to myself.) As if that weren't rude enough, a local teen called me white trash when I asked her to stop using her electronic device while sitting at my table (as is posted)...but you can read all about that one in the March Issue of 1UV MONTHLY.
At 1UV I offer (sober) intellectual social events for adults and I make things. Unique things. Lovely things. Beautiful things. And they are for sale. What could possibly be offensive about that? I don't know. But I do know that my faith in humanity has dropped even lower since the "incident of the roses".
This past spring I spent nearly $500 and potted two rose bushes and placed them along with landscaping rock in the landscape area in front of my business. I did this because there was nothing there other than a tree. Other businesses have flowers and I wanted some too. There is a local gardener group that comes around once a week. I asked them if I could have some flowers like the others. I was ignored. Then I planted some flowers directly in the ground. They began to grow and someone pulled them out. So I potted the roses. When the roses started to bud someone cut the initial buds off. The second and third rounds were left to bloom, thankfully - but then a couple individuals began bringing their dogs to specifically defecate and urinate on them. I watched this go on for some weeks before I confronted the people and was verbally attacked and ridiculed. A campaign was launched against me and my business on the Nextdoor website...a site I do not use because of its ties to government surveillance. So finally I took the roses home and installed an Art Installation in their place titled: Ode to Duchamp's Dog:
Someone stole the toilets and the fake roses. I replaced the toilets because I thought this might happen and bought back ups. So far the back ups have been left alone and in the future I can bring the roses back if I choose to do so. For now the installation remains.
So here's my question...is this just the character and personality of Saratoga, CA or is this an accurate representation of a shift in the character and personality of humans in general post COVID? I'm curious. Very very curious.