One sign that has exploded around downtown Santa Barbara | Credit: Rick Doehring

It seems that Santa Barbarians are not shopping downtown as much as we used to — part of the problem may be because we don’t know what many of the stores’ names actually mean. For example, I’ve always been confused by restaurants that just use regular names such as Jane, or Carlitos, or Wendy Foster … hey, wait a minute, our Wendy’s doesn’t sell hamburgers — it sells clothes! See how confused I can get? The point is, how can we go shopping if we don’t know where we’re going? Here’s a partial guide.

Ace Rivington My initial image of Ace Rivington was a World War One fighter pilot — like Snoopy chasing down the Red Baron. So I guessed they sold things having to do with planes. Wrong. It’s denim. Exclusive denim which comes from only one factory in the world — located outside Milan, Italy. Which means you’ll finish paying off your mortgage at about the same time you’ll finish paying off your jeans.

Lewis and Clark Obviously I assumed this would be an explorers’ kind of store featuring outdoor gear for hiking and camping, just like REI — short for Recreational Equipment, Inc., which is, in itself, a very odd name for a co-op. But the smaller print on Lewis and Clark’s sign reads “antiques and fine things” — so maybe they’re selling the stuff those explorers picked up on that long trip they took out west.

Free People I couldn’t find a single free person in the store. Perhaps if you buy some of their clothes, they throw one in.

Buena Onda Everyone knows that buena means good. So, if you want an Onda, this must be the place to buy one. But, actually, the phrase “buena onda” is frequently translated as “what’s happening” or “good vibe.” It doesn’t really refer to food. Conveniently, Buena Onda’s sign explains that they sell Argentinian empanadas. Though overly specific, I appreciate that they’re assuring me that I won’t have to eat those dreaded Chilean or Peruvian empanadas.

Chicken Little I expected a bistro serving petite portions of roasted poultry, but no, Chicken Little is a toy store. Why someone would name a children’s store after a paranoid hen who scares everyone to death by screaming that the world is coming to an end — and then gets eaten by a fox — is an entrepreneurial mystery.

Pampel No idea. But, fortunately, their sign describes their business: “Design Solutions and Awnings.” Frankly, those words could be “Legal Counsel and Lawn Mowers” or “Cooking Classes and Car Parts” — they just don’t connect for me. But if I ever need an awning…

Paper Source Obviously they sell paper products, but the name makes me think of the source of paper. Which makes me think of cutting down trees. Which makes me think I wish they’d change their name to Paper Alternative Source.

Rooms and Gardens This sign gave me the idea for this guide. I wondered: are they actually selling rooms and gardens? Probably not. But, even though they have three signs posted in front of their store, there was no explanatory small print to help me out. So, despite the strongest possibility that Rooms and Gardens is a costume drama based on an E.M. Forster novel starring Dame Judi Dench, my best guess is that you can buy things for inside and around your house.

Dune Because when I think “I want a good cup of coffee”, I immediately think “give me a mound of sand.” Of the approximately 13,527 places in this town where you can actually buy coffee (I didn’t really count them but if you add up every place where you can get coffee — from gas stations to markets to restaurants — I think my estimate is pretty close), the consensus is that Dune serves a pretty good cup of java. And — bonus — it’s sandless.

Oppi’z. Hmmm. I think it means nothing. As in Zippo. Which is what you get when you read it backward. The small print here reads “Bistro. Natural pizza.” Which makes me wonder: what exactly would an “unnatural pizza” be?

Renaissance Conjures up images of Leonardo, Michelangelo, and the other Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (except Donatello, according to Hannah Gadsby). In fact, this store sells used merchandise — it’s a permanent garage sale. I love the rebirth idea buried in its name, which gives us all hope that those bell bottoms stuck in the back of our closets are really going to come back to life one day.

Old Navy The less expensive version of Banana Republic. Both franchises are owned by Gap, and all are strange names for clothing stores. A Banana Republic is a country run by a corrupt government that exploits its own people — actions supported by the military, which includes an Old Navy. I know there’s a Gap in my logic, but somebody actually had reasons for choosing these names.

Benchmark Eatery Finally, an easy one … except their sign curiously adds these three words: “Genuine. Local. Casual.” What’s being described as genuine here? The servers? The food? The check? And the place is obviously local — it’s right in the middle of State Street. And we’re a tourist beach town — everywhere is casual. People wear cut-offs to the opera.

The franchising of one particular store has exploded downtown — you see these places everywhere on State Street. According to their signs, the stores are called For Lease. I can’t quite figure out what they’re selling — they all look like fairly empty establishments, and they never seem to be open — so my recommendation would be to not waste your time shopping at any of them.

As for the rest, I say — Namaste. Which critics say is an appropriated word, but it’s still an appropriate greeting — and, just like any store on State Street, you really have to go there to see what they’re selling.


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.