I was on the hunt for a specific gift for that certain someone and kept coming up short. I was looking for a piece of jewelry set with an aquamarine gem, March’s birthstone, and was on a budget.
I eventually found my way to Santa Barbara Arts next to the turtle fountain in La Arcada. Not only did it have exactly what I was searching for, I saw that the shop was chock-full of pretty things ― clothing, purses, pottery, cards, candles, glassware, paintings, books, and lots of jewelry. Every item handmade, each piece one-of-a-kind, most crafted by local artists. Accessible and affordable. Literally something for everyone.
Even if the merchant isn’t strictly local, explained owner Lynn Adams, a true-blue patriot who grew up in a family of artists and whose late husband was a union electrician, they live somewhere in America. “Everything in the store is made in the United States,” said Adams, the stars and stripes draped behind her. “Nothing is imported. That’s very important to me.”
Adams was 17 when she moved from Connecticut to attend the Brooks Institute of Photography. After graduating, she taught for a while and sold prints at the weekly Cabrillo art walk before managing the seasonal Yes Store. It was from there that she ventured forth to create a year-round home base for dozens of artisans to sell their wares, the only remaining shop of its kind in Santa Barbara. “We have such a good local following,” said Adams. “I’m just so proud.”
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Adams forges and maintains one-on-one relationships with the artists she represents, finding them at markets or meeting them through her network of artsy friends. “That’s part of my joy,” she said. “There are plenty of high-end, chichi stores around, and they carry beautiful things, but that’s not where my heart is.” Each purchase from Santa Barbara Arts comes with printed information about the maker and the satisfaction of knowing you’ve supported someone’s passion, she said.
Many of the names and works are recognizable ― Nell Eakin and her clay work, Nina Ward and her ceramic singing pigs, and so on. The aquamarine necklace I settled on was made by longtime Santa Barbara jewelry designer Tom Rhodes. Through an email to Adams, he said he’d been holding onto the hand-carved bead for 45 years and that it was “special.” I know the person I give it to will feel special, too.
Adams has weathered what she hopes is the worst of the COVID storm, but like all business owners these days, she’s unsure what the future holds. The closure of State Street has not treated all retailers equally, she said. But she’s determined to keep going, one way or another. “We want to continue,” Adams said. “It brings a lot of happiness to so many.”