Things look a bit different at the Isla Vista Co-op.

With help from the Santa Barbara County Redevelopment Agency, architect Keith Rivera, Keller Construction, and several member-owners who gave loans to the market, a new façade has been put in place, as well as a new wooden patio, brand new furniture, and a sleek new store sign. Construction began mid August, and was finished this past week.

Natalia Cohen

While the co-op’s face has been gussied up a bit, the new packaging does nothing to mar the earthy nature of the place, or its aim to be a part of the quirky community where it’s found. With proud smiles, those integral to the work were on site October 28 to witness outgoing General Manager David Montano and 3rd District County Supervisor Doreen Farr cut the red ribbon, commemorating the construction’s recent completion.

According to new General Manager Melissa Cohen, as she spoke before the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the exterior change will only make the market a more welcoming place and better able to serve its community. “The core, soul, and heart of the co-op remain the same,” Cohen said.

“People didn’t feel like it was their store,” she added, explaining that part of the reason for the new construction was “because we feel that it opens it up so much.” With that new openness, Cohen and the rest of the management team want to start hosting more events that will bring the community together. “We want to do movie screenings, have bands play. Our next big thing is to have a miniature art walk. After 30 years, we finally have the physical store we’ve always wanted. We finally have an outside that reflects the inside.”

Cohen did not express distaste with the way that the co-op used to be, however. “It was charming—well, except for the blue tarp [that once covered the patio].”

The co-op’s makeover—including the removal of the blue tarp—were facilitated by the Isla Vista Downtown Façade Improvement program. This program, made available through the County of Santa Barbara Redevelopment Agency, provides grants to businesses in the commercial area of I.V.

According to Jim Heaton, a redevelopment specialist, the program stresses that the integrity of I.V.’s businesses are not touched, even as the buildings are cleaned up and modernized. “We offer design assistance and facilitate navigation through the permit and grant process,” he said. “Several architects are hired,” and owners choose the plans they want. Chino’s and Caje are among the other I.V. business to take advantage of the program. “We don’t dictate what needs to be done. It’s just repairs and replacements—nothing interior,” Heaton said.

Farr similarly stressed that the façade program takes nothing away from the authenticity of the businesses, as exemplified in its implementation at the I.V. Co-op. “I.V. is such a fantastic community. It’s so eclectic,” Farr said. “The Redevelopment Agency [merely] wants to assist in making the community better.”


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