A Winters Tale: Lights, Camera, Winters

File Photo/Winters Express

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The City Council of Winters is in the first phase of its all important search for a new City Manager.

How things are going so far is a well kept secret, though the Council released a short film last week to be viewed by candidates for the job.

It was much akin to writing a letter to someone selling their home, when multiple offers are in play.  

In such a case, your real estate agent might advise you to write a personal appeal to the seller, explaining why the home should be sold to you, why you will love it and cherish it, and that if you buy the house you will do right by the former owner.

It works, sometimes.

The City’s film was a homemade affair, shaky camera work, a couple of misspellings. But the Council Members hearts were in it when it came to explaining their love for the town.

Standing outside Steady Eddy’s, (labeled Steady’s Eddy’s) Council Member Jesse Loren cheerily recounted how she moved to Winters and raised her children here.

Councilman Pierre Nue, poised beneath the Rotary clock, talked about the friendly nature of the town, and how people stop and talk to one another on the street.

Mayor Pro Tem Bill Biasi made his pitch in front of the playground, a backdrop to explain that Winters is a town where people pitch in and do good things.

Mayor Wade Cowan, on the steps of City Hall, called Winters “the center of the universe,” and again stressed the friendly, family nature of our community.

While every word they said about the City is indisputable, it’s hard to predict how the film will be seen among the pool of candidates for the City Manager’s job.

The Council echoed the holy trinity of Winters virtues:  friendliness, hard work, giving back. 

But will that be enough to attract the kind of hard driving, creative personality needed to help pull our town back from the brink?

As noted in the vaunted EDAC report, we need an economic development director, or a City Manager who functions as one (in addition to all other duties). 

That’s because our economy is poised to get worse before it gets better. In fact, it may be years before our downtown business district is thriving again.

 Nice people, with a fine work ethic, and community spirit are absolutely essential to the culture of Winters.  But much more is needed to keep Main Street viable.

Last week, two more venerable businesses announced they are closing.

The yogurt shop, The Scoop, made the announcement on Facebook, sadly requesting that anyone interested in buying the business send a text.

And then, succumbing to the prohibition of indoor crowds, The Palms announced it is closing “indefinitely.”

While it is sad to lose The Scoop (and Cloth Carousel, and the Smith Funeral Home, and Seva Space and Yolo Trader’s Bistro), The Palms is in a category by itself.

What began as a music showcase in a barn in Davis, The Palms moved to Winters and immediately became a landmark destination.

It’s hard to imagine Winters without it, but it’s also hard to imagine the authorities permitting indoor gatherings any time soon, though I’m not quite sure why we’re forbidden to  listen to music at The Palms when we’re allowed to fly on airplanes.

It’s also heartbreaking to see the For Sale sign in front of the Abbey House Inn, another landmark.  

In the planning and construction of the Hotel Winters, the City seemed to wish the Abbey House would fade into the background.

Now, it may very well disappear, as Eric and Pam Tavenier have decided that the state’s onerous new health regulations making running a Bed and Breakfast a kind of hygienic nightmare.

For example, when cleaning after guests, you may vacuum only one room at a time, then you must stop and sterilize the vacuum cleaner itself. Really?

Meantime, it’s hard to imagine the Hotel Winters breaking any occupancy records, or creating mountains of tax revenue for the City, as had been touted.

Many in town believe that COVID notwithstanding, the hotel was overly ambitious, given the very nature of Winters.

I remember listening to one of the out of town investors at the grand opening, as he proclaimed the hotel’s value to the City.

“Your downtown businesses are going to have to start staying open until midnight,” he exhorted, “because crowds of tourists will be walking up and down the streets day and night!”

He actually said that, proving how little time he must have spent here prior to writing a check.

There are other small towns in America which have brought their downtown districts back to life after other dire economic turns. I’ll be writing about their innovative moves in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, I’m hoping the City Manager search will not only emphasize all of our good traits–friendliess, can-do spirit, volunteerism–but also a willingness to embrace brave new ideas.  

We need someone who knows businesses–where to find new ones, and how to keep those we have from vanishing.

Working with the Council, our new City Manager can approach Winters as a blank slate, which it very nearly is.

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