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ColUSA Made brings new life to Riverfront District

2016-colusa-made-brian-pearson-4166There is a new one-stop shop for all things Colusa County, located within one of Colusa’s oldest commercial buildings at 121 8th Street, in the city’s historic Riverfront District and what is Colusa’s old Chinatown.

ColUSA Made opened its doors to the public last weekend, marking the end of 18 weeks of construction and the realization of co-owner Kathleen Langhi’s vision for the neatly partitioned brick building, which has a history that dates back to 1891.

Langhi’s vision for ColUSA Made is this: a Colusa County micro-emporium with an ambiance that takes visitors on a trip back in time.

“Basically, the feel that we want people to have is walking into an old general store,” Langhi said.

Attached to ColUSA Made is its accompanying Tap Room, run by Langhi’s business partner and husband, Paul Santinelli.

While the original brickwork and wood floor and ceiling on the ColUSA Made side of the building contribute to an ambiance akin to the general stores of yesteryear, they might lend an undertone reminiscent of an old-school saloon to The Tap Room, if not for the industrial decor that adorns it. Santinelli’s side of the building offers what he and Langhi describe as “unique, quaint environment” for the upscale bar, which features craft beer on tap and a selection of fine wines.

This weekend was a soft-open for ColUSA Made and The Tap Room. Even so, the community’s response has been great.

“There has been a lot of positive feedback, and I think (the business) is definitely in the conversation,” Langhi said.

A grand opening is in the works, although Langhi couldn’t say when just yet.

2016-colusa-made-brian-pearson-4168Made for Colusa

So what, exactly, can a first-time customer expect when walking into ColUSA Made? Put simply, the store is on one hand, a celebration of, and a central hub for, the works and products of present-day artists, artisans, and craftsmen from the area. On the other, ColUSA pays homage to Colusa’s past.

Speaking from her own experience, Langhi said that tracking down locally made goods can be more difficult than it sounds.

“I have friends that haven’t visited Colusa, and I wanted to send them Colusa items — as kind of a little nudge or a little joke — to come and visit,” Langhi said. “I went out looking for Colusa-made items, and I had a hard time finding them. I knew that the area is rich of very talented farmers, and artists, and craftsmen. Basically, I said I was going to (open a store) and felt like I had to follow through.”

Langhi added that the idea for a store like ColUSA made wasn’t exactly a new one.

“I’ve had several people tell me, ‘I love this, I have had this idea for so long.’ So, I felt like it is a group effort,” she said.

In April, Langhi put out an announcement on social media, indicating that she was seeking local products and goods to be featured at ColUSA Made. That alone drew a pretty good response, she said.

In addition to soliciting for locally made items, Langhi put a significant amount of legwork in searching for items herself.

“Some of the products I knew about already, having friends who made them… And then I did a lot of research… I would just take note: I would go into a store and start reading labels, just trying to find out what was local and what might be a good fit for the store,” Langhi said. “I have heard that when Chung Sun closed, people had a hard time finding local items that they carried. I want to have a place for those items, and a place where folks can come and find stuff that they maybe didn’t even know was local.”

Take, for example, the wine barrel furniture that is crafted in Stonyford.

“That was definitely a pleasant surprise,” Langhi said.

The list of local goods and products being sold at ColUSA Made is extensive, but includes the following: Natural Peace Soap (made in Colusa); “a whole family of rice” from Sun Valley (which Langhi said had only been available at Chung Sun); and the works of local artists, photographers, and authors including Sue Graue, Hal Tacker, Trish Gustafson-Ayala, and Dexter “Mark” Galentine.

Homage the past

Langhi wanted ColUSA Made to not only highlight the best products the county has to offer, but also to pay homage to the city’s past and create the old, general store feel previously mentioned.

The building in which ColUSA Made is housed has more than 120 years of history, which Langhi has gone to lengths to uncover.

The property at 121 8th Street has been many things in its history: a creamery, a cleaning plant, and a home. It was originally owned by Samuel Richard Smith, who leased the building to Sing Sung Long and Quong Wing Hi in 1891. The building sold in 1900 and again in 1915, when it was bought by a group who would form the Colusa Butter Company. It sold again in 1920 to Hermann Jacobson. Jacobson leased the building to Frank Hinoki, who lived in half of the building and operated a cleaning plant in the other. Jacobson sold the property to Toshiro Yoshimura in 1947.

After hitting the local history books, Langhi tracked down Lani Yoshimura, who is the niece of Toshiro and the granddaughter of Frank Hinoki. Yoshimura told Langhi her mother was born at that property, and her paternal grandmother lived there after the war. Her grandmother was responsible for planting bamboo in front of the property, which grew under the building and made its way to the back yard.

Langhi and Santinelli painstakingly worked to preserve as much of the history surrounding the building as possible, from the bare brick walls to the original wood ceiling and floor, to the bamboo plant that Yoshimura’s grandmother planted out front many years ago. Those bamboo shoots still grace the back patio area to this day.

Whether it was searching books for information on the property or reaching out to the relatives of former owners, it didn’t take Langhi long to realize that she had a property at 121 8th Street that readily lent itself to her vision of a general store feel.

“We didn’t really touch anything. Some of the brick was crumbling, so we had to replace patches of brick, just to make it safe, but we were able to preserve the floor and the ceiling. Everything was here, and has been here, for 126 years. Just having that shell to work with was pretty easy,” she said. “Once you have that, you just add a few things and try to preserve the things there were here when we got here.”

That’s not to say that the renovation was a walk in the park. There were 18 weeks of construction leading up to last weekend, most of which was focused on the building itself.

“There’s a lot of details that go into it. We had to replace a lot of the windows, which were broken… Just all of the little nuances of trying to preserve what was here, you think that something is going to be easy and it turns into a day project… It just seems like a blur now, but every day was really tough work,” Langhi said.

The reward didn’t just come from opening the doors for business. It also came from reopening one of Colusa’s historical buildings to the public. That’s something that the community appears to appreciate as well.

“I think just somebody coming in and preserving one of the old buildings in the city, we’ve heard a lot that people appreciate what we’re doing. Even if it’s just fixing up the building, and making it where everyone can enjoy it, that’s success right there.”

Brian Pearson
Brian Pearson
Brian Pearson is the former Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects included reporting local government and the sports page.

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