24 January 2009

Old Places (The San Gregorio Store)

From the so-close-and-yet-so-wonderfully-far-away dept., a 30 minute drive from Silicon Valley will take you to a place that feels far, far away and a long time ago. The San Gregorio Store is a place that could be the Anti-Tech Museum. The single building is essentially the downtown of a sub-300-population oceanside community (most of which is not visible from the store), what used to be a hotel and hub for San Franciscan weekenders in stagecoaches.

The store, which has been in operation for 120 years, is simple in architecture, and is filled with stuff of simple goodness. While, on the other side of the Santa Cruz mountains, Silicon Valley patrons can now sit down in restaurants with touch-screens for ordering their food (and then for playing video games), the San Gregorio Store has no flickering screens at all. It does have a historic bar to sit at where conversation happens, and tables set up by a wood stove and shelves of books for borrowing (and others for buying).

The store is isolated enough to stock some essential groceries, but not so much that you'd come here if you needed to stock up. But you can find a good selection of local beers (at the bar and in the fridges), oil lamps, glassware, denim, cast iron cookware, some good looking puzzles, socially progressive reading matter ("World Atlas of Biodiversity"), posters (of Bob Marley, Albert Einstein, and Marian Anderson, for example) and bluegrass music (live, if you come at the right times). In what may be the only nod to the store's proximity to Silicon Valley, you won't find cowboy hats here, only "cowtechnician hats".

It is a country store, but "country" in the way that only a large metropolitan area like the San Francisco Bay Area can produce. In other words: liberal, humanist, and intellectual, where in some other places, "country" might mean conservative, hick, and unread. Bay Area "country" means laid back ... in a socially and politically intense kind of way. The prices also betray the fact that the store is close to a major metro area: it's a bit hard for me to justify buying a t-shirt for over 20 bucks. But if that's the price of keeping a place like this on the map, then it's cheaper than a museum (and there is none of the staged feel of a museum to the San Gregorio Store).

The San Gregorio Store is on Hwy 84, just off the Pacific Coast Highway and just North of Pescadero, another old California town. Take 84 west from the store for one minute and you're at the Pacific Ocean, where the breakers will drown out all the noise and memory of the modern world. Take Hwy 84 east for thirty minutes and, as you re-enter the modern world, one of the first restaurants you'll come to is Buck's of Woodside, where bits of famous and ground-breaking computer technology are framed on the walls, gifts from famous and ground-breaking tech pioneers, many of whom were funded in part while lunching at Buck's with venture capitalists. That's the spectrum right there: the old towns of the Pacific Coast on one end of the 84, and a Silicon Valley deal-making hub on the other. Noisy waves to the west, bits of tech to the east. ... Go West, (low tech) traveler*.

The San Gregorio Store

*that is, find the point on your compass which leads you away from industry and development for a spell, and go that way.

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