Malts, Tacos and Shrimp & Grits

When I was a little girl, I used to go to my favorite restaurant with my mother in Whittier, California, where I grew up: the counter at the Woolworth Store.  I loved sitting on the red vinyl and chrome stools because I enjoyed spinning around on them.  Normally I would get french fries and a chocolate malt.   I adored going there, and looking back on it,  I'm sure the thought never even once crossed my mind that that Woolworth's would ever be gone.  Because when you're little, everything pretty much seems to stay the same. I'm sure it's because everything pretty much is the same when you're five or six years old…

Last night my  friend and I went to Gingham for supper.  We got there early and got a table by the window in the bar.  We used to sit along the same big roll-up window when the restaurant was Gio's.  We love sitting there sipping wine and eating street tacos and watching people and dogs walk past.   In the beginning it never crossed my mind that this wouldn't stay Gio's forever.  Just like Woolworth's seemed to me when I was a girl.

As we sat there watching people walk by, what struck me was all the new faces I saw.  In the "old days" at Gio's,  I was able to recognize almost all the people who strolled past the window. Like locals, or regulars at Gio's. People like us.  But this evening was different.  New people in town to eat at Gingham.  Cars lined the street looking for places to park. It was bustling,  and it wasn't even seven o'clock yet!

Our order of grits and shrimp arrived at the table, a change from my still beloved street tacos to be sure, and as I savored each bite (and resisted the urge to hog more than my share),  I looked out the window across the street and remembered when Ken's Rock Shop was there and my son Paul and I went inside to buy a geode with his birthday money.  He loved going in there to buy rocks there when he was little. But that store is gone now and in its place is a thriving antique shop filled with beautiful things.   Times change: rocks get replaced by treasures, malts morph into tacos and tacos turn into shrimp.

I know for myself change can be particularly hard when the cherished--and known-- comfort and habits of the recent past seem threatened by the perceived discomfort of something new taking its place. Like the itchy new sweater you had to wear when you were ten because you'd outgrown the one you'd worn for what seemed like all your life.  The soft comfy old one. With the hole(s) in it.

We La Mesans face lots of changes ahead.  Stores close.  New ones open.  People move.  New folks settle in.   Woolworth closed.  Gio's opened.  Gio's closed.  Gingham opened.

Some changes are easy; others not so much.  But I, for one, think it's really pretty wonderful what might begin unfolding in our village and I'm excited to have things grow and change.

Change might feel a little itchy at times, but that soft, old comfy sweater with the holes in it was itchy at first, too.

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Tags: Chris Shea, City of La Mesa, Gingham, Gingham La Mesa, Gio's, La Mesa, La Mesa Today, La Mesa news


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Comment by McPherson Studios on January 16, 2012 at 4:18pm

I just hope the change is a little more respectful of who we've been as a Community, more in line with the Village atmosphere that evaporated recently into real estate, insurance and unsightly fluorescent storefronts. While we do need more traffic coming into our berg to support local economies, let's not lose sight of the down side "moving forward" can bring... things like congestion and rude societal behavior. That said, it feels like Gingham is a good fit just as Cosmos, the personalized boutiques and art/antique destinations have proven to be. Long live our Jewel of the Hills...

Comment by Bruce Hartman on January 16, 2012 at 9:33am

Excellent essay Chris!   With the La Mesa Centennial on the horizon, it's only fitting to reflect on the city's treasured past and look toward the exciting, unchartered future.  I live in the heart of North Park and have seen an amazing transformation of the central business district from sleepy district into a culinary/entertainment destination.  Perhaps La Mesa will follow suit.

Comment by Patricia I. O'Reilly on January 14, 2012 at 3:48pm

La Mesa Village is and always has been a dynamic place.  Through good times and bad it has always been "the last bastion of the Crusty Curmudgeon", a true Main Street USA where independent merchants do as they wish, open/close when they wish, and are never at the mercy of mall property management.  They come and they go, but they are never homogenized, never same of a sameness, never boring.  And they stand firm jawed to provide personal service and individual attention to their customers.  That is why people continue to come, continue to be faithful to their favorites.  And we welcome new neighbors with enthusiasm and mourn the departure of the old neighbors when it is time for them to move on.  We are SO fortunate to have the Village; it deserves respect and support.  Never fear, it will endure...if we trust that it will.  Just don't ever expect us to agree with one another or be uninteresting.  There is personality here.  So WELCOME, Gingham, be one with us and we will prevail!

Comment by Lisa Moore on January 14, 2012 at 1:59pm

Great piece!  I remember the small town I lived in Canada and the "Woolworths" type favorite I would go for my chocolate sundae after a visit to the dentist.  They was the treat my mother gave me for putting up with the pain I endured at the dentist!  I went online recently to the webcam of that town and see that things have favorite cafe was no longer there.  But instead of being sad, I just thought of all the great memories of those delicious chocolate sundaes!! 

Comment by Paul and Lane Adams on January 14, 2012 at 12:54pm

Looking forward to visiting Gingham! Change is good for us! Difficult at times but good!

Comment by Laura and Robert Lauzier on January 14, 2012 at 11:49am


You said exactly what I was thinking. Robert and I were there Thursday night and were "comparing" Gingham to Gio- and then realized we should just enjoy the fresh face in the neighborhood. It was fun and exciting (and different) and thats OK! Change is hard- but good!

Laura Lauzier

Comment by Chris Lavin on January 14, 2012 at 11:32am


Great piece. When I was helping edit the Union-Tribune, we hoped for columnists who could capture the themes of community life as you have done here over and over. La Mesa Today -- and La Mesa -- thank you for your thoughts.

Chris Lavin, Editor

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