by Evelyne Vivies
Of all the battles one might choose to pick at this moment in history, fighting for the right to party may seem low on the list. But don’t tell that to the masses of people huddled in front of Richard Garoogian and his group of impromptu musicians, singers, and comedians that make their way to the 210 every Saturday morning for their Morning Cup of Jazz.
The historic 210 building, situated right in front of First Presbyterian Church, has seen its fair share of fighting over the years. In its colorful past, it has housed three nightclubs: Shagnasties, Final Score, and Bogart & Lulu’s, all famous for their drunken bar fights. So when a fatal stabbing resulted in the forced closure of the nightclub, the church had had enough. It decided to buy the building and turn it into a coffee shop and community center for hosting concerts, art shows, and other events but with church oversight.
During the renovation, the church, wanting to make a clean break with any lingering aura of the building’s previous occupants, and leaving nothing to chance, carved scripture into the beams of the building structure. Ray Stokes is the church elder from First Presbyterian Church in charge of overseeing the 210. His many “everything” tasks include perfecting the art of a great cup of coffee, making great food, investing in a state-of-the-art sound system, and even serving as sound technician. Whenever regular customers speak about 210, it’s with great pride and reverence as though it were a magical place.
I sat down in the office with Ray during Morning Cup of Jazz to get his take on 210’s magic. As Ray puts it, “It’s got a “feel” to it. Even in the chaos out there with the music, it’s still peaceful.” Ray reflects, “People coming in for the first time often say, ‘This place feels different.’ ”
Kaitlin Ann Roberts is the events coordinator whose job also overlaps into “everything else.” She ensures that seating, lighting, sound system, food, and personnel are all in order for the events happening in and out of the venue rooms. And, indeed, there are many events happening at 210 under Kaitlin’s dedicated direction. There are monthly community discussion forums, book studies, weekly music, special concerts, talks, and even karaoke night.
The monthly forum, entitled “210 Connect,” animated by a retired member of the Visalia Times Delta, gets the community involved in pertinent community topics. Past topics have included Marijuana Legality and what it means for Visalia and The Homeless and what to do with the ever increasing homeless bussed in from other cities. An informed panel of experts are brought in with each topic. The mayor, the police, the homeless, local marijuana shop owners, and more communicate openly with Visalia residents about ways to navigate our ever-evolving life as a community. The next topic will be on trafficking.
However, one of the most popular events of the 210, some say of Visalia, perhaps even of California, is Saturday’s Morning Cup of Jazz from 10 a.m.-noon, hosted by local musician, Richard Garoogian. Richard is a professional musician and member of the group Zzah, as well as the blues group, Brothers of Another Mother. In addition to being a virtuoso on the piano, Richard also plays the flute, harp, melodica, and sings. But of all his many musical talents, bringing people out of the woodwork seems to be Richard’s favorite work of art.
Our valley’s own star jazz pianist is not only immensely talented, but also hospitable and welcoming. Richard generously shares the limelight with musicians and loves showcasing other people’s talents and attributes. In addition, his unique improvisational skills allow musicians and singers of different musical genres and styles to easily join in the fun. And join you will. Kind-hearted but stubborn Richard will prod and encourage regulars and newcomers alike to sing a song, play an instrument, and even tell their latest joke. And he is the reason the room is always packed every Saturday morning.
This is a café of vibrant community life where students, working people, business leaders, musicians, artists, and dreamers of every age assemble. There is something special about it that one feels immediately upon entering its doors. It’s a unique ambience. A breath of fresh air which exudes safety, joy, and curiously, love. Most assuredly thanks to the innate sense of caring from the people in charge.
Ever-pensive about members of his congregation and community, Ray is now turning his attention and concern to the predicament of college students. He and Kaitlin have been actively looking for someone to fulfill the mission of organizing a college study night ever since the position was left unexpectedly open by a departed soul. “Please help us find someone,” implores Ray. “We want to see our college students have a place to go for studying and being together in a safe environment where there are no drugs.”
Yes, the 210 makes a great cup of coffee, delicious food, has plenty of room to sit in a trendy New York loft décor. But the magic is the touch of caring about people we feel here. The magic is the touch of love.
Come feel the love Monday through Saturday at 210. Located on 210 Center Street in Downtown Visalia. Tel: 739-9010 Check out all the events and special hours at www.210life.com.