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  • Florence Low / Bee file, 2006.

    Patrons of the Blue Lamp fill the crowded dance floor during reggae night, April 9, 2006.

  • Cathie Anderson

Cathie Anderson: He’s a singer, she’s a bartender; now they’re also owners of Blue Lamp

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013 - 9:19 pm
Last Modified: Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013 - 3:54 pm

Vocalist Ben Garcia spent years playing clubs with the hardcore punk band Hoods and other groups. His wife, Gabriell Garcia, managed and tended bars at such local favorites as The Limelight and Streets of London Pub. They teamed up in October to buy and manage The Blue Lamp at 1400 Alhambra Blvd. in Sacramento.

“I’m doing the bar and the books and all that,” said Gabriell Garcia. “Ben’s really working on booking the music and working with the bands and making sure the band hospitality and all that goes well. … We just really hope we can make it like a nice, comfortable neighborhood bar and bring really great music to Sacramento.”

At the same time that the Garcias are taking over the bar, they’re welcoming three foster children to their family of four as they try to help out a relative. Gabriell Garcia takes the piles of laundry in stride: “I’ve been a bartender for 20 years. That’s just adult day care. Babies are easier.”

The Garcias acquired the bar Oct. 31 from brothers Ed and James Stoner. So far, it’s paying the bills, but the couple will have to use money they’ve set aside to add chairs and tables, renovate the bathrooms and add a patio. The music lineup will remain diverse – punk rock, country, hip hop, reggae, blues and more – and the bar is now open daily from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m.

“Sacramento’s always had its ups and downs as far as bands coming through here,” Garcia said. “A lot of times, they go from San Francisco straight to Portland. We’d really like to capture them and bring them in here. We’ve been doing shows, like we had a big hip hop show Monday night, and it was 30 degrees out and it was a Monday night, and we had 80 people show up.”

A low-interest leg up

Young farmers have struggled getting the microloans they needed to plant and grow their tiny operations, but this year, Chris Hay at Say Hay Farms outside Woodland and more than 100 other Californians got the assistance they needed from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Banks really aren’t interested in making small loans like $35,000 or less, and that’s where we come in, and I think we really fill a void,” said Val Dolcini, state executive director for the USDA’s Farm Service Agency in California. “We’re able to provide a lower-interest loan which has reduced paperwork associated with it and, in some respects, doesn’t require as much in terms of qualifications for a first-time borrower.”

Docini personally connected with Hay to tell him of the program, and the 30-year-old farmer took a loan that allowed him to triple his revenue and quadruple his production. His workforce grew to seven from just two.

“This is our third year farming, and we went from 5 to 20 acres,” Hay said, “so the microloan was really crucial because we had much larger expenses than we would normally have in the springtime because it was coupled with an expansion.”

Hay said he had a market anxious to get more of the vegetables and eggs he produces, but he would have had to use credit cards with interest rates of 11 to 16 percent to fund seeds, compost and other supplies. Big, commercial banks wouldn’t touch him, he said, because he didn’t have enough tax returns. Hay had applied for a larger loan from the Farm Service Agency a while back, but he didn’t qualify because they wanted a home as collateral. He leases the land he farms, and he doesn’t own a home. The microloan, he said, could be backed by a lien against his crops and comes with an interest rate around 2 percent.

Dolcini said: “If we want to make sure that the rural places in our great country still have opportunities for young men and women to make a living there, instead of leaving rural America, which is often the case, we need programs that allow them the opportunity to do that.”

Addio, Michelangelo

Bee reader Ron O’Connor wanted to know more about the sale of one of his favorite haunts, Michelangelo’s Italian Art Restaurant, at 1725 I St.

“None of the staff at the restaurant has any idea what the new owners’ plans are,” O’Connor said. “The restaurant has been run by Lauren Barton for 15 years. I have seen no mention of this in The Bee (perhaps because the sale is not officially final?), but the restaurant certainly deserves a mention.”

This columnist wasn’t able to reach the new owners, Mark and Carol Hoyt, but word is that they are restaurant industry veterans who plan an American bar and grill called Easy on I at the midtown location. This will include corned beef and other marinated meats for salads and sandwiches.

Barton closed the restaurant Nov. 27. In an email response to my query, she said: “I have always had a full time job and worked at the restaurant in the evenings and on weekends. My daughter Jacqueline managed the day to day operations and worked the day shift. She has gone back to school and will be looking for a full time job. ... We kept Michelangelo’s going the past 4 years out of love of the business and our wonderful customers. However, ... California is not a really good environment for small independent businesses, and it is becoming harder and harder to stay in business and provide a quality product or service. While it was a very difficult decision to sell this business, we felt we had no other viable choice.”

When we hear more from the Hoyts, we’ll share it with you.

Read more articles by Cathie Anderson





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