Four months ago, a hue and cry went up throughout Santa Barbara’s Mesa neighborhood: The Mesa Bookstore, at 1838 Cliff Drive, was teetering on the precipice and at risk of being replaced by a hookah bar.
Though only 205 square feet — Clark Kent would have found it challenging to become Superman in such tight quarters — the bookstore punched well above its weight for 26 years thanks to David Karys-Schiff and his wife, Lisa, who made it a thriving beehive of small-c culture and community. Garrulous, cheerful, and astute to reading the reading habits of customers, Karys-Schiff functioned as literary tour guide for all but the most exotic of tastes. Over the years, life, age, and family happened. To care for an ailing father, Karys-Schiff had to sell the shop. It was either that or the hookah bar.
Into this void stepped longtime freelance writer and certifiable Mesa Rat D.J. Palladino and his wife, Diane Arnold. Both are omnivorous readers, but loving to eat is a far cry from running a restaurant. In this vein, both boast bookish experience.
Arnold — a just-retired teacher who moved to Santa Barbara as a girl in 1964 — worked for Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in San Diego. She’s also fiendishly inspired when it comes to spotting rare bargains at thrift shops and garage sales.
Palladino, a longtime contributor to The Santa Barbara Independent, also worked the floors for Osborne’s Book Store — formerly on the 900 block of State Street — as well as Andromeda Books. Palladino’s predilections run the gamut from high-brow literati to the rude, crude, and outrageous, and he loves nothing more than to swap enthusiasms. Palladino moved to Santa Barbara in 1967 and lives in the same Mesa home in which he grew up. In his prior bookstore incarnations, Palladino remembers getting heat from the boss for spending too much time with customers. Now that Palladino is the boss, he need not fear.
They plan to keep the same name and phase in any changes gradually. They’d like to expand the children’s section and hold special reading hours for tots. But first, they’ll be learning the ropes of running a small business out of an exceedingly small space.
For many Mesa residents, the bookstore staying put comes as a huge relief. “I can’t tell you how many people told me how thrilled they were it was staying in business,” he said. “Not relieved — thrilled.” He and Arnold are thrilled, too. To say hello to the neighborhood and to their customers, Palladino and Arnold will be hosting a hello/good-bye/grand opening along with the Karys-Schiffs on Sunday, February 12, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. n