Times being what they are, one might consider this year’s list of bests as a kind of index of leading economic indicators, dateline Santa Barbara. Now, make no mistake: We know it’s been tough out there, and that many are suffering, or at the least feel a measured pinch where life, livelihood, and the pursuit of happiness happen to intersect. But there are patchy rays of sunshine, according to owners of many of our readers’ choices for businesses, services, and diversions.
Many, like the owners of the oft-celebrated SOhO (Best Place to Hear Live Music), weathered hard times last winter and now find things loosening, or, like Ensemble Theatre (Best Theater Company), which had fallen off the list for a couple of years, saw attendance drag ominously and then roar back a winner this year, regaining its roost of dramaturgical delight.
Some, sadly, have disappeared (farewell, Circuit City) only to be replaced with new-to-us bargain opportunities (Best Buy, at last). New era categories appear (Hortipharm for Best Medical Marijuana Dispensary) while old friends (Brophy Bros., Biltmore, Chaucer’s, McConnell’s, and the Bikini Factory, among others) happily maintain their most favored trading status. Seen this way, the Best of Santa Barbara is a list of healthy opportunity maintained, keeping the promise of paradise alive through a fairly hellish cycle. Which, we hope, is behind us, times being what they were.