Friday, June 6, 2008

Vices & Spices turns 33


Everyone has a vice, and Vices & Spices, an upper State Street establishment that is celebrating its 33rd anniversary today, has happily serviced the vices of thousands of locals for well, generations.
“People come in with their kids and tell them that when they were kids they used to come in and buy candy,” said Henry Wildenborg, 59, who co-owns Vices & Spices with Blue Booth.

When Booth, 54, opened the store in 1975, he was 21 and had a simple reason for doing it.
“I just love the smell of coffee and tea and thought, well, I can start a store doing that and that’s what I did,” he said.
Out of Booth’s great sense of smell grew the homey space that Wildenborg said he considers an, “extension to his living room.”
Aside from the candy, its 80 varieties of tea, 30 coffees and dozens of cooking spices, the store also sells jewelry, tea pots, cards, coffee mugs and countless other products from around the world.
But the focus has and always will be to provide the community with high-quality coffee.
Booth said quality is how Vices & Spices has managed to compete with bulging corporations such as Starbucks.
“We really go for the high end; we get the best coffee we can find,” Booth said. “We have the luxury of buying from anyone we want to. It’s not dictated by our corporate office somewhere.”
In 1986, Booth moved to the island of Kona in Hawaii, where he bought a one-acre coffee farm. He now produces 500 pounds of his own crop, every ounce of which is sold to locals at Vices & Spices.
The coffee is so coveted, he said, that much of it is pre-sold and what isn’t sells quickly between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.
“That’s a unique aspect,” Booth said. “We have our own coffee farm.”
Another thing that separates Vices & Spices from many other coffee establishments throughout town is its local feel.
It’s one of the few businesses that have managed to remain viable for a prolonged period of time on the expensive State Street corridor.
In fact, for the store’s 25th anniversary, Wildenborg organized a contest for customers to find out how many other business on State Street had been around for as long. When the final tally came in, 44 other establishments were identified.
But while looking over that same list yesterday, only a handful remained along the popular street, which has become a magnet for pricey chain stores over the years.
“The best part is the customers and the sense of community that happens here,” Booth said. “The people who come in here are excellent customers.”
Nestled up against the San Roque neighborhood, Booth and Wildenborg said they don’t get many tourists, but have managed to retain loyal customers.
Some are so dedicated they helped Wildenborg brew coffee in the parking lot after an earthquake in 1994.
Wildenborg remembers the day well. He said the Northridge earthquake, which measured 6.7 on the Richter scale, knocked the power out in much of Santa Barbara. Due to high demand, Wildenborg said he brought his Coleman camp stove to the store and began brewing coffee one pot at a time. By the end of the day, he said a couple of customers joined him with their camp stoves and the line was out the door.
Dwayne DeVries, a dedicated 15-year customer, said he enjoys the shop because it’s a community meeting place.
“It’s a real gathering place,” he said. “That’s what I like about it. It has a kind of real homey feel. It’s a real part of the community.”
Jimmy McLeod, who has been a Vices & Spices regular for more than a decade, said he’s there every day between 9 and 11 a.m., “solving the world’s problems.”
McLeod, a diehard soccer fan originally from Scotland, had a number of good reasons for why he’s such a dedicated customer. But in the end, he said it boils down to sports.
Just as sports teams often take on distinct personalities under the direction of certain coaches, so has Vices & Spices developed its own flavor under the long-running tenure of Booth and Wildenborg, McLeod explained.
“That’s how it is at Vices & Spices,” he said. “They attract a lot of really interesting and nice people.”
Booth and Wildenborg said anyone interested in joining them for some birthday cake and a free cup of coffee is welcome to do so today.
“There are some people who come only once each year for the free cake,” Booth said.
At the front table, where various groups discuss many of the world’s problems each day, is a scrapbook with pictures and newspaper stories about the store.
As Booth flipped through the pages yesterday, remembering some of the old employees and customers, he said with a sly smile, “A lot of these people are dead. It had nothing to do with the coffee.”
Vices & Spices is located at 3558 State St.


Kate McD said...

Blue and Henry et al,
Congratulations and much love from Kate in WA. Many memories. Hope to be there for the 34th.

Anonymous said...

Great article. We have been to this shop several times as we pass through and have enjoyed the happy feeling we get when talking to the owners and their wives.

Geneva Servais