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Saturday, October 6, 2012


Circa 1890

2011 as SOHO was just beginning the store's rebirth

GUEST BLOG/By SOHO - The historic Santa Ysabel General Store, an iconic landmark, is opening October 6 with an innovative dual purpose. Dating from 1884, the store is now being restored, bringing a unique emporium brimming with heirloom and artisanal foodstuffs, back-to-nature gifts, wares for home and garden, and books and guides for the naturalist or cultural tourist. The store, ideally located at a well-traveled crossroads where state Highways 78 and 79 meet, is slated to be a popular destination as it doubles as a new Backcountry Visitor Center focused on public trails, birds and wildlife, recreational opportunities, and cultural heritage sites.

The historic store had been in business as a mercantile for more than 80 years, before seeing a variety of uses in the last three decades. As the most principal site remaining from the 19th-century ranching town, returning it to its original use fits SOHO's educational mission well. Its authentic look and feel remain intact: antique display cases and wood counters, replicas of the original back shelving are being installed, tall windows and high ceilings, bare wood floors, and a wood-burning stove with country chairs and a checkerboard drawn up to it in neighborly fashion.

The Santa Ysabel General Store is an updated version of the traditional central source of food and essential items for farmers, families, and travelers. Instead of huge burlap sacks of flour, corn and grain heaped on the floor, shoppers will find attractive, pantry-sized packages from heritage and organic food producers. Instead of agricultural tools and supplies, there will be heirloom seeds and bulbs, do-it-yourself cheese or craft beer making kits, and specialty honey, pickled vegetables and preserves put up in micro batches by food artisans.

Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO), San Diego County's historic preservation group, is the building's new owner and steward, responsible for the faithful restoration and reuse of a formerly closed and deteriorating store and social hub. Dozens of volunteers helped clean, repair, and paint the General Store earlier this year so that others will experience a lively representative of our rural heritage.

"Rural 19th-century ideals and practices have come back to the future in the 21st century," said Alana Coons, SOHO's Education and Communications Director. "We see this in the widespread popularity of and pride in DIY projects, organic gardening, handmade wares and artisanal provisions. The new Santa Ysabel General Store reflects this trend, with an emphasis on quality goods produced with the farm to table ethic highlighted. As a community partner, we are carving out a niche that will not compete with the area's existing businesses and galleries, but is designed instead to complement."

The nonprofit SOHO is also the operator of the nearby, newly restored Warner-Carrillo Ranch House, Stage Station and Trading Post. The gateway to California for hundreds of thousands of settlers and Gold Rush prospectors, the long-endangered adobe ranch house, barn and trading post make up one of San Diego County's nationally significant historic sites.

"Day trippers can easily visit the General Store and Warner-Carrillo Ranch in a leisurely outing that they may want to cap off with apple pie, wine tasting at one of the many local wineries or a seasonal, organic dinner at Jeremy's on the Hill, or any of the many other fine restaurants cropping up in the back country,"Coons said.

The new Visitor Center within the store offers maps, guidebooks, practical gear, binoculars and scopes, and information for hikers, mountain bikers, bird watchers, and other nature enthusiasts. It is staffed by knowledgeable members of San Diego County land and nature conservancies. The headwaters for the San Diego and San Dieguito Rivers originate near Santa Ysabel, so the focus on these regional watersheds is a natural fit for the Visitor Center.

The partners involved are San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy, which supports the River Park mission and is over halfway complete with the Coast to Crest trail from Del Mar to Julian; their partner at the headwaters, Volcan Mountain Foundation, whose Administrative Director Colleen Bradley sees the store and visitor center as "a way to connect with visitors to further enhance their appreciation, understanding, and experience of San Diego's wildlands, wildlife, water, and history. This connection is a natural extension of VMF's Education-Outreach program and its mission to protect Volcan Mountain for all generations." The Wildlife Research Institute of Ramona rounds out the group, known for their expertise in Golden Eagles and other raptors, WRI intends to be ambassadors for all the wildlife in our region. Board member Leigh Bittner, who heads the educational program for WRI at the Visitor Center, says, "Bird-watching is one of the fastest growing hobbies in America. Our region offers tremendous birding hotspots and WRI can help the public learn about these areas and the habitat needed to support our wildlife."

These nonprofit groups share SOHO's commitment to preserving natural and cultural landscapes and East County's rural way of life."Step out on the trail with us, and we'll take you back in time," says Lynne Anne Baker, Executive Director of the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy.

The General Store's October 6-7 opening weekend coincides with Julian's Apple Days Festival and an Open Studios tour organized by the Julian Arts Guild.

Free and open to the public, Santa Ysabel General Store and Visitor Center hours will be 10 am-6 pm Friday through Sunday. For more information, contact SOHO at (619)297-9327or visit

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