One Door Closes. Will Another One Stay Open?

What are we missing in downtown Sierra Madre?

If you live in Sierra Madre long enough eventually you will lose something. Your cynicism, your fear of saying hello to unknown neighbors on the street, or maybe your natural inclination not to get involved. Some of us start to lose our interest in the outside world and our firm grasp of reality, but that's a topic for another day. Inevitably, we all lose people and places we have enjoyed and that stand out for us in the community.

Today, I made what will probably be my last trip to . Husband and wife team of Jeffrey Ingwalson and Sally Morrison are .

I remember being a little jealous when they first opened because I felt like they stole my dream. I wanted to open a bookstore in town someday and they beat me to it. I am miles away from ever even considering opening a business, and as the book business continues to evolve (or devolve) I applaud them for taking a chance on a business they loved and for giving it a good run.

Truth is that now I am feeling a little guilty because I didn't shop there all that often. Couple times year I would go in during special events or for Christmas and birthday presents. I should have been there more regularly. You would think I would have bought out the stacks as often as I had spare cash, but I didn't. And it was not because of any shortcoming on the part of the store. Every time I went in I found something to buy and enjoyed my visits. I just didn't go in that often.

The city is working through a . We talked about this a few months ago when they for the document. One of the issues that Sierra Madre continues to struggle with is convincing residents to spend their money in town. That means having a useful, beneficial, interesting and diverse mix of businesses downtown. And it would be nice if those stores could also benefit other local artists or business people.

We've got great gift stores. We've got new restaurants. And we've got salons. But even those places have clients coming in from out of town while us locals go elsewhere. I will admit to my total culpability in this tragedy. And for as close as they are, sometimes shopping at these stores actually takes a little extra effort.

So what is missing? Some things we have lost and we can't get back like Howie's. But they left because they weren't making enough money to stay. So what do we really want that we could really keep around for a long time? What are we willing to commit to and try not to lose? If books still exist and I ever get to open my bookstore will you be loyal customers?

D Shelley May 15, 2011 at 02:08 PM
I think it would be great (and in the character of the town) to have an old fashioned malt shop/soda/burger joint like Fair Oaks Pharmacy has in South Pasadena. (Yeah, and they could still have grilled chicken/fish burgers and seltzer/juice drinks since burgers and malts are a "sometime" food!) I just love visiting Fair Oaks Pharmacy, sitting on a bar stool while sipping an New York Egg Cream or sharing a good old fashioned burger with a friend (they are BIG!) It's like being in a time warp.
Rosemarie Gorman May 15, 2011 at 03:17 PM
I love Sierra Madre and do not go to the malls etc... all of the merchants are great. However, my favorite from day 1 is still Savor the Flavor. All merchants should be mentored by Karen Keegan! The idea of a malt shop would be great!! With afforadable prices. We should have ONE DAY where ALL Sierra Madre residents get a reasonable discount with ID between 6 and 9 PM. Especially during the summer. Have clowns in the triangle for the little children (they can pass out balloons). This would be very festive.
Rosemarie Gorman May 15, 2011 at 03:17 PM
Alos have a Karaoke in the triangle for our young youth!!!
Alison Kalmus May 15, 2011 at 03:50 PM
When we needed scripts for the 20 odd actors for Shakespeare in the Park, Sierra Madre Books supported us by giving us wonderful discounts. I bought some of my literature, history and play books here for the respective directing/producing, tutoring and teaching I do. If it was not in their inventory, they would order it promptly - wish I had shopped there more. "Our Town" has lost a jewel that enhanced our cultural/literary, community profile.
A Different Point of View May 15, 2011 at 03:56 PM
This is Sierra Madre navel-gazing at its finest. Book stores all over this country are suffering the same fate as music stores. Technology has now made their services less important than they used to be. On-line book ordering services like Amazon.com make available every possible title in print, and some that aren't. Gadgets like the Kindle, Nook and iPad can bring you any one of millions of books digitally at the touch of a button, and at a cost less than that of the print version. To make the unfortunate closure of this fine book store seem like a further indication of the coming downtown apocalypse is utter nonsense. And to blame it on the people living in this town is absurd. The actual issues are far larger, and more reality based, than what we have read here.
Dixie Coutant May 15, 2011 at 05:56 PM
I, too, am sorry to see the bookstore close, but I don't feel personally responsible. I agree with A Different Point of View on that one. Thanks to their careful selection, I was able to purchase some wonderful children's books for my grand child and found some enlightening works for my old brain to chew on. I enjoyed every visit to the store, but, there is a limit as to how many books one buys and how many people shop in Sierra Madre. We are, no matter how you look at it, a small town with specialty stores stores that carry a limited selection of merchandise, and we are surrounded by one-stop mega-stores that outsiders have to drive by in order to shop here. As for "what do we need in Sierra Madre?" I'd say to those who want a "Fair-Oaks-style" malt shop, why not go to the Sierra Madre malt shop? It's not a make-believe place; the owners didn't recreate the atmosphere - BeanTown has been here and grown here for years, it is what WE have made it. You can get a delicious malt at a reasonable price while you perch on a bar stool and watch the world go by.
Christopher Lewis May 15, 2011 at 07:04 PM
For my money, the fact that A Different Point of View's abrasive and condescending response was done anonymously and through the ether of the internet underscores Ms. Blodgett's lament. I too have had my life made easier by Amazon.com and iTunes, and I will continue to use their services...guilt free. Yet, I also share Erica's desire to look my neighbors in the eye, have a conversation, and partake in civil discourse and/or frivolity with the other humans. The dilemma…for me… is striking a balance between that which is easy, efficient, and ultimately mindless and that which requires more effort but is ultimately more fruitful. My fear is that if I stay sequestered in my home/car/classroom for too long I might find myself becoming one of those anonymous drones in one of those 1984/Brave New World dystopias I remember reading about in those things we used to call books. So…I don’t feel as though Ms Blodgett was “blaming” us; I took it as a reminder to set aside some time for what’s important in my life. And, on that note, I’m getting off this computer and going outside to mix it up with the humans. “A Different Point of View” (if that is your real name), hopefully I’ll see you out there and we can talk.
Joe Ramsey May 15, 2011 at 07:28 PM
It's ironic that you should mention Howie's, because in my opinion, what we need most in town is a little food market. I heard a rumor that, at one time, Trader Joe's was looking at a spot near Lima and Sierra Madre. There would have been a lot more traffic, but that would have been great. We have several storefronts on the west side of town that are a waste of space... Highlander Liquor (a misnomer if there ever was one - they aren't allowed to sell liquor!) and the comic shop that is never open spring to mind. Taco Fiesta is a great addition to the neighborhood.
Jenna May 15, 2011 at 07:51 PM
I agree with the market concept. The loss of Howie's and the one that used to be at the NE corner of Lima and Sierra Madre Blvd (I admit, I forget how to spell the name! ) was, in my opinion, a big loss. Bookstore or music store/cafe combination always a winner too. :)
Fran Garbaccio May 15, 2011 at 09:55 PM
I agree with Rosemary -- anyone hoping to make it in Sierra Madre should take a note from Karen Keegan and Savor the Flavor. Also, let's not forget Arnold's Hardware and the owner Basil where once again every attempt is made to serve the customer. Great place for gifts too. Other than purchasing books, which I must admit I'm also guilty of using Amazon rather than our hometown bookstore, Sierra Madre Library either has any book you might want or every attempt will be made to get it from another Library.
L Mann May 15, 2011 at 11:49 PM
I would like to see a small grocery store in Sierra Madre whose selection would complement that of Taylor's. I go out of town to buy items such as pet and laundry products, frozen foods, and other general grocery items not available at Taylor's, although their produce and meat/fish are excellent, as is the friendly service. I enjoy goods from our local bakery but find them too expensive for frequent purchase, despite the excellence of their baked goods. I use our wonderful library on a weekly basis, and purchase most of my other books from Amazon. I would love to always buy from independent book stores, but need to save where and when I can. Thanks for opening this dialogue!
s sayres May 16, 2011 at 01:01 AM
Perhaps you jest? A short drive to Alhambra is all that is required for that. If music and singing is what you have in mind what about encouraging struggling (or not) musicians to fill the air with bliss ala Manhatten steet and subway station free music. Open instument case for tips optional
Catherine Addé May 16, 2011 at 04:08 AM
It was Roess' (pronounced 'Races') market, and we shopped there alot when I was growing up here.
Nancy Lu May 17, 2011 at 04:50 AM
I was just commenting to a friend that this is the most wonderful small town to live in. Tucked away next to the mountains with easy access to just about everything one needs. What a fantastic feeling it is to get up on a Saturday morning and walk into town. Start with a nice yoga class at Sierra Madre Yoga, followed by coffee and pastries at Bean Town or breakfast at The Only Place in Town. Then proceed down the street for a manicure and pedicure at Tropical. After the fingers and toes are dry, I pop into Lenora Moss and pick up some flowers; stop by Taylors for some meat for the bar-b-que (the chicken is always fresh and reasonably priced) and some fresh veggies to go with it. Then walk home with the most wonderful warm happy go lucky feeling. THIS IS SIERRA MADRE, and this local LOVES our shops and frequents them often. Living in Sierra Madre is a little slice of heaven.
D Shelley May 18, 2011 at 02:42 PM
Dixie, I have probably averaged 3 or 4 days a week at Beantown for at least 11 years. In fact, one summer, between jobs, I worked there as the "day off baker" for Jose when Tom and Sue owned it. I am definitely one of the "WE" you speak of. Beantown has great malts, but I was thinking more about the burgers and other stuff to go along with it. Beantown has many afternoons, particularly in bad weather, when every table in there is taken with adults and college students parked there for hours on end with their laptops (some use it as their office). Sometimes that single stool at the window is ALL that is available in terms of seating. I've seen families or a few friends walk in there to grab a bite or even just some coffee, survey the situation, and leave because there was no seating available AT ALL! BTW F.O., Pharmacy bought a nice antique bar many years back which added to the atmosphere, but the Pharmacy has been there since the beginning of time. The atmosphere at BT was created by one of the former owners, Sue's, love of antiques. I love to go to F.O.'s occasionally on a rainy day for the food, the atmosphere, the smells of burgers grilling, AND the great malts in the old fashioned glasses (with the extra being given to you in the metal blender container). Not a laptop in sight! I stick by what I said - an old-fashioned (no Wi-Fi) malt shop in Sierra Madre would be fun. Gotta go! I am off to Beantown for their Wednesday Bagel Special!


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