As we near the third year of an absolutely relentless, seemingly never-ending and ever-changing global pandemic, it can be difficult to take it all in, to view 2021 with a macro-level perspective, particularly as we are currently awash in the incredibly transmissible Omicron variant.
Here’s as good a starting point as any: holy sh** vaccines are an absolute wonder!
At this point a year ago, the Bay Area’s ICU capacity had plummeted, a stay at home order was in effect, both indoor AND outdoor dining were shut down and things were, um, BLEAK. The good news began trickling in several weeks later, as vaccine capacity slowly improved and county officials backed our calls for the return of outdoor dining.
Most of our businesses and nonprofits were focused on what was coming their way in terms of PPP loans, state Small Biz relief Recovery grants, the Chamber’s Mill Valley Thrive Fund and the County of Marin’s Arts & Culture Recovery Fund , which doled out grants to Mill Valley’s stalwart arts organizations, all of whom were thrashed by their complete inability to gather people in a room to experience art, live music and performance since March 2020. Specific relief for restaurants and arts organizations arrived later, with Mill Valley orgs faring well.
It was seemingly impossible to fully grasp in that moment how much of an impact the vaccine cavalry would have on the year that followed, particularly upon the opening of a vaccine facility at the Larkspur Ferry Terminal, among many other locations. A vaccine surge followed as we headed into spring. At the moment, nearly 90% of the total Marin population and 93% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated.
The community continued to embrace the outdoors for al fresco everything, including a street closure that infused the downtown with vitality. Former mayors called for ‘bureaucratic hurdles to evaporate’ to support outdoor dining and other al fresco business uses. A business case was made for car-free streets. Experts urged leaders to turn some parking spots into shared spaces for parklets and Gov. Newsom signed a trio of bills designed to expand options for businesses. All of those changes came within the larger framework of an unprecedented staffing crisis, whose driving forces perplexed many. An equally complex supply chain crisis called for empathy and support from customers
There were plenty of changes along the way, with The Store’s owners seizing the moment to open the beach-centric The Local and Carolina debuting the Fez men’s clothing shop. Tysa Wright opened her eclectic, eponymous shop. Jim Sargent debuted his Indigo Attire & Artesania shop downtown. Melinda Neal moved her ever-growing Marin Conservatory of Dance to a bigger space on Miller Ave. Michelin-starred chef Brandon Jew’s Mamahuhu is set to open in early 2022, and MIXT is opening in the former Gira Polli space in the coming months.
The Mill Valley Lumber Yard’s Millie’s Crêpe et Créme, Fideaux pet shop and Eddy Bar & Bottle, a wine shop offshoot of Ged Robertson’s Watershed restaurant, all opened in 2021, while Mad Dogs & Englishman expanded there in response to the ongoing, massive surge in e-bike demand.A mother-daughter duo opened California Jewelry Girl in Strawberry Village. Fitness gurus are opening Club Evexia gym in the massive former Glassdoor space. Homegrown Equator Coffees opened its seventh Bay Area coffee shop inside the iconic Round House Cafe on the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge in September.
On the down side, there were some major closures, none more devastating than the shutdown of the physical space at The Hivery, though its innovative digital program continues. West Coast Wine • Cheese closed its Mill Valley space. The Image Flow moved to Larkspur. Larry “the Hat” Lautzker closed his Famous4 shop and moved it into smaller digs on Sunnyside Ave. EO closed its retail shop downtown after nearly a decade. And just this month, Parranga in Strawberry Village closed.
The Dipsea Race was postponed until November but ultimately delivered an amazing race. The Historical Society moved ahead with a plan to locate the historic No. 9 engine in a possible expansion of the Depot Plaza. Oh, and Haley’s Comet arrived in the 94941.
As if managing the impacts of a public health crisis wasn’t enough, a long overdue reckoning with racial inequity saw Mill Valley leaders continue to grapple with the lack of diversity in our community, and identifying a dearth of affordable housing as one of the culprits. City officials struck a partnership with Covia, a Walnut Creek-based nonprofit organization whose “House Mill Valley” program matches residents with more house than they need with those looking for more affordable housing opportunities. City officials studied the feasibility of workforce housing on city-owned land at 1 Hamilton Drive, continued making progress, agreed to move forward and vowed to pull every level possible to meet its regional housing goals.
A wellspring of public art focused on diversity, equity and inclusion continued in 2021 from artists like from artists, while the City Council began wrapped its arms around the now-former DEI Task Force’s 93-page, 28-recommendation, multiple ”wow”-inducing document that spanned affordable housing, cultural and recreational engagement, economic opportunity, education and policing. They vowed more action and dug into an extensive work plan for police reform. There were some horrifically troubling bumps along the way. And the MV Historical Society dug deeper.
If all that’s not exhausting enough, we dealt with ongoing drought and ever-increasing fire danger, as city officials chose a multi-faceted, Google-powered evacuation strategy that got a test run later in the year.
Big events remained complex and often elusive, as the Memorial Day Parade was canceled, and the annual Wine, Beer & Gourmet Food Tasting went virtual for the first time. But the Mill Valley Film Festival, Mill Valley Arts Festival, Sound Summit, Comedy on the Plaza, Concerts on the Plaza, Movies in the Park, the Curtain Theatre, the Community Block Party and Winterfest all caught pre-Omicron windows and garnered huge success. The Mill Valley Chamber Music Society returned after a COVID-induced hiatus.
A trio of Mill Valley fixtures returned after extensive renovations. A sparkling, revived Depot Cafe & Bookstore returned in January after a lengthy renovation. Its arrival came with a public loo, a long-overdue facility for residents and guests at a time when public loos are in stark decline nationwide. The Sweetwater Music Hall roared back in September, along with its Rock & Rye restaurant. Unfortunately, indoor live music has been a rollercoaster ride, despite a meticulous vaccine verification program, and they had to shut down this month due to the variant. And this month the long-awaited Paseo: A California Bistro opened in style.
Through it all, even the best of times, turbulence reigned supreme. And continues to do so.
Hold on tight!